Johanna Harness is the creator of the successful Twitter tag #amwriting.
Her novel was published in May 2014. My review is full of spoilers, though it attempts to connect with the characters.
Spillworthy is an upper middle grade novel, perfect for all age readers. There are spoilers in this essay.
Before you read this, don’t get me wrong. This is the way it touched me. This is a heartwarming, uplifting novel of hope for all of those society has left behind. Abusers, abused, ignored, and children. Your words matter. Their words matter. They will touch someone, even if you never know who, where, or when. They may never know who you are. You may never know who they are.
Normally, when I r
ead a novel, I can only connect with one, or maybe two characters. In this case, I can relate to nearly every character, and even the ones I can’t, I can understand how they became who they did.
Ulysses Samuel Finch – The first character introduced. A homeless 10 year old boy who already understands the importance of sharing thoughts with the world without expectation. An easy character to connect to.
Long-legged Janetta – Ulysses’s mother. The one parent who didn’t completely abandon him. She is a long term drug addict, among other addictions. And yet, she
values her son. While I have never been a drug addict, I have known some. Well portrayed character. Many people say they never understand how anyone can become an addict. My recent experience with the “medical” system we have in our country has given me a more in depth understanding of why. Women need medical care without false accusation. And to be respected, as Janetta likely never was.
Samuel Finch – Ulysses missing father. He likely never knew he had a son. The reader eventually finds out why he left home before he knew. What is this missing character like now? No one knows.
Gem Isobel Rost – A twelve year old girl who wants to find her missing mother. She eventually finds out many secrets of her birth that her father didn’t want to tell her. She
learns the importance of not keeping secrets, and what can happen, when a person does. I often wish I knew the truth of who I am. And yet, does it really matter at this point in my life?
Estella – A sixteen year old girl who knows her father, and despises him. She deals with this every day. She has an apparent strong exterior, with a soft heart. She would likely have found
Ulysses father if given enough time. I was lot like that at sixteen.
Estella’s mom – Referred to as a “Sally.” Someone who stands up for others, especially children. She is strong, and left the man who had abused her. The reader never finds out if the abuse is physical, mental, or emotional. They all leave scars. Often, the mental and emotional leave more permanent scars, as other people can’t see the original scars, and frequently (and often unintentionally) rip them open and pour salt into the wounds. Yes, I’ve done that as well.
Blake – The seventeen year old boy who left an ugly home and tried to escape abuse. He returns each day to check on his mother’s welfare, as she will not leave the man she married.
The reader never finds out if she knew about the abuse, or, if she too were abused and could not admit it. He rescues the little girl, Crystal Barnes. An easy to connect to character who has a rough exterior, and a heart of gold.
Crystal Barnes – A six year old girl who rarely spoke, and who had been kidnapped and hidden on the Wildlife Refuge. She would escape most days, and return to her hidden cell. Like many abused children, she returned out of fear to her abuser. Also easy to connect to character. A starved child, only one outfit, and no ability to communicate her needs or wishes. In fact, many abused children go home to their abuser everyday.
Norma – the dog walker.
A person who had once survived an unknown abuse, and never recovered. She was afraid to reach out to others. Easy to relate to.
So, the question becomes, was there anyone in the story I didn’t relate to?
The kidnapper? Well, I don’t personally relate to him. I have seen how power can easily become abuse of power though. Ulysses grandmother? No. She kicked out her abuser. She stayed with him for too many decades because of social requirements. She finally determined what was important in her life. I think, she’d search for her missing son.
Are there any characters left?
Gem’s dad. He was a nice person. He kept secrets for many reasons. He learns that eventually, he has to share them.
The other characters in Portland?
They are mostly unique, and each come alive on the page. The reader doesn’t really learn their stories, though they can sense what a few of those stories might contain. Sally, Doogy, the music store owner, and a few others were part of his “family” network. Those who listened and cared. Every person of every age needs people like this.
All in all, a great novel of hope for those society chooses to leave behind.