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Children's Literature Reviews
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The Harmony Arms
by Ron Koertge.
Boston : Joy Street Books : Little, Brown, c1992.
177 p. ; 22 cm.


Fifteen-year-old Gabriel is continually embarrassed by his teacher/writer father, but when he goes to live with him in Los Angeles in an apartment complex full of unusual characters, Gabriel gains new insights into himself and his father.

Best Books:

Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Twelfth Edition, 1995 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Eureka! California in Children's Literature, 2003 ; Book Wholesalers, Inc.; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, 1992 ; United States
Notable Children's Books, 1993 ; Association for Library Service to Children; United States
School Library Journal: Best Books for Young Adults, 1992 ; Cahners; United States
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 1993 ; American Library Association; United States
YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 1998 ; American Library Association; United States

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Young Adult Reading Program, 1994 ; Grades 7-12; South Dakota

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Upper Grade
Book Level 4.2
Accelerated Reader Points 6


Stephanie Zvirin (Booklist, Oct. 15, 1992 (Vol. 89, No. 4))
Readers get the same vivid sense of culture shock as 14-year-old Gabriel does in Koertge's latest novel, which invokes the author's favorite themes--father-son relationships and the surprise of first boy-girl attraction. Faced with choosing between spending the summer with his mother and her new boyfriend and going with his father (and Timmy, Dad's handpuppet) to L.A. to see about getting Timmy's story on the big screen, Gabriel opts for L.A., hoping that in new surroundings he'll be able to escape his dad's embarrassing attachment to Timmy. What Gabriel discovers at the Harmony Arms, the odd apartment complex into which he and his dad move, is a group of tenants as singular as his father: a proud, elderly nudist; a down-and-out psychic who loves baseball, beer, and roller blades; a generous-hearted woman who makes commercials for a living; and Tess, a spunky, energetic teen who's just as attached to her camcorder as Gabriel's dad is to Timmy. Offbeat though they are, Koertge's characters are both real and compassionate; they respect and care for one another and ultimately teach Gabriel to do the same. And Koertge's right on the mark when it comes to that first passionate kiss. Tess and Gabriel's friendship escalates, culminating in a strong, sexy scene where the two literally fall on each other. While kissing is as far as the pair actually gets, the scene is an ideal setup for demonstrating, without preaching, how easy it is to get "carried away." Sad, funny, and thoroughly satisfying. Category: Older Readers. 1992, Little, Brown/Joy Street Books, $15.95. Gr. 7-9.

CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 1992)
Burdened with the worst possible fate of adolescence -- an embarrassing parent -- middle-schooler Gabriel heads to L.A. for a month with his father, Sumner. As Sumner haggles with the studio over a movie script about his hand-puppet character Timmy the Otter, Gabriel experiences a life-style vastly different from that of his midwestern hometown. The residents of the Harmony Arms, Gabriel and Sumner's apartment complex, are an eccentric and fascinating lot, including a 90-year-old vegetarian nudist, a roller-blading psychic, and teenage Tess, who is making an on-going camcorder film of her life. Gabriel soon finds that one month in L.A. among his new companions offers a fresh perspective on many things, including his sometimes embarrassing father. CCBC categories: Fiction For Teenagers. 1992, Joy Street/Little Brown, 177 pages, $15.95. Ages 13 and older.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1992)
Gabriel, 14, and his dad Sumner fly to L.A. for the summer, leaving his newly divorced mom on a bicycle trip with her boyfriend; Sumner, second-grade teacher and author of a children's book about Timmy, an otter, has a film contract. Gabriel is mortified by the way Timmy, in puppet guise, invades every conversation, private or public; he's also apprehensive about adapting to California after staid Missouri. Indeed, the other denizens of their condo are a touch bizarre: Cassandra, a roller-blading psychic; gentle Mr. Palmer, an elderly nudist widower; Mona, who acts in commercials, and her camcorder-wielding daughter Tess, whose scintillating repartee is as relentless--and as genuinely comical--as Timmy's. What Gabriel learns, in the end, is that people are people, despite the ambience and facades. Meanwhile, there's a rather long getting-acquainted time, effectively buoyed by the offbeat, sympathetically drawn characters, remarkably imaginative imagery and witty dialogue, and the warming relationship between Tess and Gabriel (caught kissing in the garage, their innocence is real, their parents' conservative caveats refreshing). Like Zindel, Koertge revs up the fantastic high jinks toward the end; then, he closes with his own generous brand of informed reconciliation between parents and children. Another strong showing from a fine author; more conventional and realistic than Francesca Block's books about LA., and it makes a rewarding comparison with them. 1992, Joy Street/Little Brown, $15.45. Starred Review. © 1992 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Gabriel and his father, Summer--a children's book author--have left their quiet Midwestern hometown to spend the summer in Los Angeles. While Summer meets with the Hollywood bigshots who want to make his character Timothy the Otter a household name, Gabriel explores the city with his new friend Tess and makes the acquaintance of his relentlessly zany new neighbors. By summer's end Gabriel has embarked on his first romance and confronted death for the first time. In addition, the big city's freewheeling ambience has allowed him to put his father's often grating eccentricity into perspective--a remarkable achievement indeed. Here, as in his previous books ( The Arizona Kid ; Mariposa Blues ), Koertge brings a light touch to a handful of major issues. However, the abundance of flashy local color becomes overwhelming, distancing the reader from what could have been an affecting and truthful story. Koertge seems unable to decide whether he respects his characters or thinks they are just a bunch of crackpots. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

Roger Sutton (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 1992 (Vol. 46, No. 3))
When his mother decides to go away for a while with her boyfriend, fourteen-year-old Gabe is bundled off with his father for a month in L.A. Also along on this sojourn-the reason, in fact, for the trip-is Timmy the Otter, a hand puppet (and bane of Gabe's emerging maturity) whom Gabe's father has parlayed into a popular children's book and who now has a chance to star in a movie. Koertge's fifth novel is facile fun, relatively plotless but entirely amiable, as Gabe and his father meet the wacky but warmhearted inhabitants of the Harmony Arms, a run-down motel in Burbank where they're staying: Cassandra the psychic; Mr. Palmer the nudist; and (of most interest to Gabe) Tess, an intense girl, daughter of the motel manager, thoroughly involved with making a movie of her life, Mondo Tess. "I started like sixteen months ago when Mom got me the camcorder, and I film every important thing that happens to me." There's a sweet romance between Gabe and Tess, a new understanding between Gabe and his father, even a rapprochement between Gabe and Timmy. Although these relationships are rendered somewhat superficially, the light touch and nimble wit ensure that readers will have a good time seeing everything happily worked through. R--Recommended. (c) Copyright 1992, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1992, Joy Street/Little, 177p, $15.95. Grades 7-10.


Fathers and sons--Fiction.
Los Angeles (Calif.)--Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.K81825 Har 1992
91047496 /AC [Fic]
0316501042 : $15.95
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