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Harrar, George E. 1949–

Harrar, George E. 1949–

PERSONAL: Born July 25, 1949, in Abington, PA; son of Frank S. and Helen Harrar; married Linda D. Davis, November 5, 1974; children: adopted son. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: New York University, B.A. (cum laude), 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Running, juggling, ancient history, Spanish.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—10 Oxbow Rd., Wayland, MA 01778. Agent—Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Agency, 535 Boylston St., 11th Fl., Boston, MA 02116. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Middlesex News, Framingham, MA, editor, 1976–79; freelance editor and writer, 1980–83; Computerworld, Framingham, features editor, 1983–89; freelance editor and writer, Wayland, MA, 1989–.

AWARDS, HONORS: First prize, Wellspring Short Story contest, 1996; grant from Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, 1998; Carson McCullers Prize, Story magazine, 1998, for a short story; Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature, 2001; cited in "best children's book list," Bank Street College of Education, 2001.

WRITINGS:

(With Glenn Rifkin) The Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1988.

Signs of the Apes, Songs of the Whales: Adventures in Human-Animal Communication (juvenile), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

Radical Robots: Can You Be Replaced? (juvenile), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990.

First Tiger (novel), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1999.

Parents Wanted (novel), illustrated by Dan Murphy, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 2001.

The Spinning Man (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

Not as Crazy as I Seem (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

The Trouble with Jeremy Chance (novel), illustrated by Elizabeth Thayer, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

The Wonder Kid (novel), illustrated by Anthony Winiarski, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

Work represented in anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, 1999; and Side Show Anthology. Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Story, New Press Literary Quarterly, Quarter after Eight, and Dickinson Review.

SIDELIGHTS: George E. Harrar began his career writing nonfiction books for children. In 1999 Permanent Press published Harrar's debut novel, First Tiger. This novel revolves around Jake, the sixteen-year-old son of a mentally disturbed Vietnam veteran, who runs away from home, and the boy's memories of his mother's murder ten years earlier. After living for a time on the streets in New York City, Jake returns to his home in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where further challenges await him. First Tiger caught reviewers' attention. In the view of Amanda Fung of Library Journal, readers will "be drawn to Jake" despite his juvenile delinquency and will find many of the other characters "compelling," if cynical. Although he called the novel "realistic and gritty," a Publishers Weekly critic noted that Harrar both describes Jake's "limited options, but also his unquenched hopes for a better life."

A similar story is the subject of The Trouble with Jeremy Chance. Young Jeremy is also a runaway, who leaves home after an argument with his father results in a whipping. His adventure takes him to Boston where, in 1919, he hopes to find his brother, who is returning from Europe after World War I. On his own for the first time, Jeremy experiences some ups and downs, eventually saving a man's life during a huge molasses flood from a distillery, reuniting with his beloved brother, and even earning the forgiveness and respect of his father. Several reviewers commented favorably on this coming-of-age story. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "This colorful novel captures the mood of the nation at the start of an exciting new era." Edward Sullivan noted in School Library Journal that the story seemed rather predictable, but also called "this appealing story … rich in period detail."

Harrar attracted even more critical notice when he began writing stories about boys with special needs and special challenges. Parents Wanted is the story of Andy Fleck, a twelve-year-old boy with attention deficit disorder, who ends up in foster care because his father is in jail and his alcoholic mother can't manage his behavior problems. Unable to control his impulses, Andy is rejected by one foster family after another until he finally meets the parents who seem like a good match for him. There are drawbacks, however. Jeff and Laurie expect a return for their love and understanding, and Andy has trouble following their rules. He gets into trouble on a regular basis, but when he falsely accuses Jeff of sexual molestation, Andy realizes that he has gone too far. Will he be able to undo the damage? Will he finally conquer his fears and allow himself to experience the love and acceptance he so desperately needs? Interestingly, the book is semi-autobiographical; it is drawn from Harrar's experience adopting an eleven-year-old boy.

In The Spinning Man, Harrar diverted from his usual fare to write a psychological thriller. Evan Birch is a professor of philosophy in a small town, with a happy wife, two children, and a tenured position at the local college. His life is thrown into turmoil, however, when he is accused of kidnapping a sixteen-year-old cheerleader. While Birch retreats into philosophy in the face of police questioning, evidence begins to pile up that he may be more involved than his attitude suggests. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised the novel's "riveting, whip-smart suspense," and New York Times book reviewer Marilyn Stasio praised Harrar as a "graceful and subtle writer."

In Not as Crazy as I Seem, Devon is a fifteen-year-old with some very visible problems. His compulsive-obsessive disorder drives him to do everything in patterns of four. He is compelled to impose order and organization on every aspect of his life, and he is terrified of germs. Devon wants to fit in, but his rituals make him the object of ridicule in his school and his community. His worried and desperate parents move to a new community and put Devon in a new school, but being accepted at a new school proves even harder for Devon than staying at the old one, and he has a very hard time making friends. People think he is crazy, while Devon himself is unable to see his behavior as anything more than "weird." He seems to be attracted to other students whose behavior pushes the boundaries of ordinary, including a troubled boy named Ben. Ben convinces Devon to go along on a school invasion after dark, and Devon is the one who is blamed for the vandalism that occurs. Devon maintains his innocence but refuses to implicate his schoolmate, and even his parents begin to doubt him. This serious situation forces the boy to look inside himself, where he finally discovers the root of his obsessions and his compulsive need to control everything around him.

Though some critics felt that Not as Crazy as I Seem lacks the literary tension of Parents Wanted or that the plot seems rather contrived, others recommended the book. Booklist reviewer Frances Bradburn called the story "at once humorous and poignant, frustrating and sympathetic." Paula Rohrlick noted in Kliatt that, in contrast to several other books about similarly afflicted young women, "getting a male perspective on this disorder is an interesting change." Perhaps most important is the positive message, as Susan W. Hunter pointed out in School Library Journal, that Devon can learn to control himself, rather than his surroundings, by learning to "use his will power, not a pill."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Appraisal, autumn, 1991, review of Radical Robots: Can You Be Replaced?, p. 94.

Booklist, December 15, 2001, Chris Sherman, review of Parents Wanted, p. 723; February 1, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of The Spinning Man, p. 975; February 15, 2003, Frances Bradburn, review of Not as Crazy as I Seem, p. 1064; October 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of The Trouble with Jeremy Chance, p. 320.

Book Report, January-February, 2002, Linden Dennis, review of Parents Wanted, p. 60.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1989, Robert Strang, review of Signs of the Apes, Songs of the Whales: Adventures in Human-Animal Communication, p. 85.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of Parents Wanted, p. 1213; December 1, 2002, review of The Spinning Man, p. 1719; April 15, 2003, review of Not as Crazy as I Seem, p. 607.

Kliatt, January, 1990, review of Signs of the Apes, Songs of the Whales, p. 42; January, 1991, review of Radical Robots, p. 47; March, 2003, Paula Rohr-lick, review of Not as Crazy as I Seem, p. 11; January, 2005, Amanda MacGregor, review of Not as Crazy as I Seem, p. 14.

Library Journal, September 15, 1999, Amanda Fung, review of First Tiger, p. 112.

New York Times, April 6, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Spinning Man.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1988, review of The Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation, p. 73; October 4, 1999, review of First Tiger, p. 63; September 3, 2001, review of Parents Wanted, p. 88; March 3, 2003, review of The Spinning Man, p. 55; April 7, 2003, review of Not as Crazy as I Seem, p. 67; October 27, 2003, review of The Trouble with Jeremy Chance, p. 70.

School Library Journal, February, 1991, John Peters, review of Radical Robots, p. 88; November, 2001, Shawn Brommer, review of Parents Wanted, p. 158; April, 2003, Susan W. Hunter, review of Not as Crazy as I Seem, p. 162; March, 2004, Edward Sullivan, review of The Trouble with Jeremy Chance, p. 212.

ONLINE

George Harrar Home Page, http://www.georgeharrar.com (February 8, 2007).

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