Book Review: Spirit Level by Sarah N. Harvey
Harriet (known as Harry) is a donor-conceived child who has never wanted to reach out to her half-siblings or donor—until now. Feeling adrift after a breakup with her long-time boyfriend, Harry tracks down her half-siblings, two of whom are in Seattle, where Harriet lives. The first girl she meets is fifteen–year-old Lucy, an effervescent half-Japanese dancer. Then she meets Meredith, a troubled girl who is always accompanied by her best friend, Alex. Harry and Alex are attracted to each other, much to Meredith’s chagrin, and when it becomes clear that Meredith is an accomplished liar, Harry makes it her business to figure out what Meredith is up to. In the course of her investigation, she discovers a lot about Meredith, but the biggest shock is not about Meredith—it’s about Alex, who was born female. So now Harry must deal with not only her growing attraction to Alex, but also Meredith’s hostility. As decisions are made around whether to contact their donor, the three donor sisters negotiate their relationship and Harry tries to figure out what she really wants.
17-year-old Harry leads an interesting life. She works every Sunday at her “grandma” Verna’s hair salon giving free hair washes and haircuts to the “Sunday ladies,” a rotating cast of homeless women. Verna is not Harry’s grandma by blood relation; Verna took Harry’s mother in when she was young and homeless. Harry’s mother now has a PhD and is a sociology professor whose main area of research is the lives of homeless and runaway young girls. These girls and their stories (as well as some of those of the older “Sunday ladies”) show up a lot in this novel, as Harry spends time transcribing her mother’s interviews with the homeless girls.
After reading a magazine article about donor siblings, Harry decides she’s finally ready to begin searching for her siblings. Harry’s mom, a Single Mother by Choice, had long ago set Harry up with a way to access the donor sibling registry. Harry decides she wants this to just be her thing for now and doesn’t tell her mom that she’s starting her search. She quickly finds three donor brothers and two donor sisters, both of whom are currently in Seattle, where Harry lives. As she learns more about all of them, she finds they all have very different family makeups and reasons why their mothers used a sperm donor. After getting over the initial shock of how enthusiastic and gregarious her sister Lucy is, she begins to grow close to her. The introduction of another sister, Meredith, interrupts that growing bond. Meredith is secretive and hard to read. Harry just doesn’t click with her. She does, however, click with Alex, Meredith’s best friend who is also living in Seattle. When Harriet embraces the MO of one of her namesakes, Harriet the Spy, and digs into Meredith and Alex’s pasts, she uncovers something she didn’t expect: Alex used to be Danielle. Harry is thrown for a loop, but not horrified or upset or anything negative. She has some questions, but now knowing Alex is transgender doesn’t change anything. She’s still interested in pursuing a relationship with him, but Meredith has other ideas.
I really liked this book. I’ll admit that the title didn’t draw me in. Did I know that a spirit level is something carpenters use for checking if things are level? Of course not. Did I read the title as something either supernatural or New Agey? Yep. Good thing I looked beyond that and read the description. Harry and her mom are wonderful characters. They are very close and supportive of each other. Harry’s mom has worked hard to teach Harry to be compassionate and open-minded. With the exception of Alex’s garbage heap of a mom, who we only briefly meet, all of the characters in this book are so supportive and caring. I love that we see stories here from donor-conceived teens, from homeless girls and women, and from families made up in a variety of ways. I also love Alex and Harry’s growing relationship. I don’t want to be like, oh, Harry is so great to not be bothered by learning that Alex is transgender, because that should never bother anyone and you shouldn’t get heaped with praise for simply not being a close-minded idiot. BUT—I really did love that Harry was like, okay, this is a thing we need to talk about, and I have some questions, but she wasn’t otherwise concerned. Overall this was a good read focusing on voices we don’t hear a lot of in YA.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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