Given that SE Hinton penned several of my favourite books and that my own Southsiders series is based in the world of teenagers, I didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose to pick up a review copy of Jen Conley’s Seven Ways To Get Rid Of Harry (US).
It’s a great idea. Danny Zeko’s hormones are taking control. He’s facing up to having to find his place in the school pecking order and the early onset of romantic ideas about the opposite sex at the same time as he’s dealing with the death of his father. His life is a whirlpool and, most of the time, he’s just trying to get by and work it all out. Problem is, the world keeps getting in the way.
There’s the school system, for a start. Danny can’t seem to do anything right. It’s not helped that he has a temper and is quick to resort to violence, but there’s plenty of injustice and he feels ever ounce of it keenly.
Throw in Danny's peers. They're all in the same cauldron, scrabbling about to rise to the top of the broth and not many of them care whose shoulders, heads and fingers they have to stand or break to get there.
And then there’s the Harry of the title. He’s the new love of Danny’s mum’s life. There’s constant drinking and fighting in the house and he picks on Danny and his sister with the meanness of an accomplished bully. When it becomes clear that Harry’s about to move in, Danny decides he has to get rid of him. Along with his close friend, he comes up with various schemes to cut the man out of his life forever. These range from the simple tactical to extreme interventions. And he puts his plans into action, too. Problem is, they tend to backfire and paint the world in darker shades.
There’s a lot to like about this tale. It’s fresh, different and well-paced. The characters are well-drawn and I particularly enjoy the way that Conley plays with them so that the balance of good and bad in everyone makes it difficult to work out precisely what to feel. There’s a nostalgic element, too, not so much for the period (partly because my early teens were in the previous decade) as for the time of life and the awful complications involved in surviving the growing up process. And then there's the fact that I imagine most of us have played around with the idea of getting rid of someone in our lives at some time (right?) and enjoy watching someone else take on the challenge for us.
As the book moves on, the sense that Harry needs to be wiped off the planet intensifies and the seeming impossibility of the outcome is painful to endure. This puts a lot of pressure on the author to pull off a stunt or some underhand trickery as an ending. What she does instead is take us to an unexpected place that fits the bill perfectly. It’s a satisfying tie up that keeps its feet on the floor and is all the more powerful for the lack of bells and whistles.
Don’t be put off by the likely Young Adult tag this book will carry. If there’s justice, Seven Ways will find success among Danny’s contemporaries and may even lure a few reluctant readers to its pages. It would be even fairer if it were to gather some momentum among readers of all ages. It certainly worked for me.