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In the novel Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, six kids from Ms. Laverne’s class (Haley, Amari, Tiago, Ashton, Esteban and Holly) must meet every Friday of the year to talk - alone, with no adults in the room. They choose to name this special room, the ARTT Room (an acronym for “A Room To Talk”). With the ARTT room, they now have a safe space in which they are free to talk to each other about what’s bothering them, free from judgement. Whether it be Haley’s father in prison, Amari’s fears of racial profiling, Esteban's father’s deportation, or Ashton adjusting to his family’s new financial situation, the six of them know they can count on each other to listen. They can talk about things they usually wouldn’t talk about: their feelings, fears and thoughts. Haley, Amari, Tiago, Ashton, Esteban and Holly all learn that they have the ability to express their emotions freely and ultimately grow braver. The unfamiliarity of the ARTT Room eventually becomes a place that they now look forward to going to every week.

This novel is written in first person, from the perspective of the main character, Haley. What I liked about this, is that readers are able to hear how she, in particular, is feeling during a specific time. This allows the reader to understand the evolution and growth of the character (in this case, Haley), as the book progresses. Haley was an extremely influential character in the book, and hearing from her point of view, helps readers to grasp a better understanding of the story.

Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was that it is a book that doesn’t require much focus. There isn’t much of a plot, and certain parts weren’t very structured throughout the novel. The book lacked most of the traditional elements of a story, such as, a climax or a main problem. The constant use of imagery within Jacqueline Woodson’s writing, helps readers to visualize what is happening in the book and guides them through the story. Woodson’s style of writing engages all five senses, while also directing readers to gain deeper insight of what is going on in the novel. This shows the reader what is taking place in the story, rather than directly telling them.I gravitated towards this book because I was able to learn about other people who are unlike myself and their personal struggles. While the students were talking to each other, they spoke about issues that many kids all over America have to deal with on a regular basis. I learned about things that many kids my age worry about, that I wasn’t aware of before reading this book. Through hearing about the students’ problems and concerns, it opened my eyes to how real problems in America can affect children personally. For example, Esteban’s father’s deportation caused him and his family a lot of stress and anxiety. Undocumented immigrants are clearly a source of controversy among Americans, and it was interesting to see how people are affected by this problem. Readers are able to educate themselves on cultural issues in America and what difficulties this can cause children.

After reading Harbor Me, one can learn that it is crucial for children to express their emotions. Furthermore, having trustworthy people around to advice and support them through difficult times, is important in order to overall better themselves and achieve successful relationships. Presuming that the students in Ms. Laverne’s class hadn’t opened up to each other and expressed how they were feeling, they might have struggled to cope with the challenges that they faced. This book discusses a wide array of themes, such as, privilege, race, self expression, loss, identity, friendship, culture, and more. Overall, I would unquestionably recommend this novel to anyone that is interested in gaining a higher perspective of people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin Random House, 2018. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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