Kelly Harms’ Teen Book Picks

By Laura Anne Bird | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun

Kelly Harms would love more sleep. Or a vacation. Or both.

Harms, who has lived in Madison for nearly nine years, is a full-time writer and mother to her 8-year-old son. Although divorced, she’s in a relationship with her partner, Chris, whom she affectionately refers to as “the Irishman.”

In her third novel, “The Overdue Life of Amy Byler,” Harms explores the toll that motherhood can take, particularly when a woman is on her own. “Single parenting was really hard for me,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you get pneumonia, you just keep going.”

Her character, Amy, is desperate for a break, which comes in the form of a conference for children’s librarians. She leaves her two kids with her almost-ex-husband and flees to New York City, where she embarks on a summer of unanticipated self-rediscovery.

Amy’s journey is touching, humorous and deeply reassuring, particularly for readers whose own wells have run dry. “In the moment, you don’t know where the other side is,” Harms says. “But it’s there.”

THREE BOOKS TO STEAL FROM YOUR KIDS

“Amy Byler is a children’s librarian,” Harms says. “So is it any surprise that while writing my book, I lost myself in a huge stack of titles often assigned to teen readers?” These are her favorites:

TIGER LILY by Jodi Lynn Anderson

In this reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s classic “Peter Pan,” Tiger Lily meets Peter in the woods of Neverland. Their bond is tight but fated to be severed. “This is a heartbreaking romance,” Harms says. “But while teens swoon, adults will be dazzled by the language and elegance of Anderson’s writing.”

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME by Mark Haddon

Christopher Boone is trying to solve the murder of a poodle. Ostensibly on the autism spectrum, he struggles to understand human emotions, which makes his investigation even harder. “This book has become mandatory reading for teaching kids empathy,” says Harms. “But for adults, it’s a satisfying exploration of an exceptional mind.”

PIECING ME TOGETHER by Renee Watson

Jade is an ambitious, African-American student at an otherwise white high school. Struggling to fit in, she creates an identity she can be proud of. Teens might overlook the nuances of the grown women in Jade’s life, but adults won’t. “Plan to sob your way through this beautiful, award-winning story,” says Harms.

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