HARVEY, Sarah N.

Author Tags: Kidlit & Young Adult

Adopted at age two and living with loving foster parents on a West Coast island for fourteen years, Sid in Sarah N. Harvey’s realistic teen novel Three Little Words (Orca 2012) is angry that his hippie birth mother gave him the first name of Siddhartha on his birth certificate. His father’s name is listed as unknown. So when Sid learns some disturbing news about the possibility of a half-brother, he must overcome his reluctance and investigate further . [For more info, see articles below.]

Sarah Harvey's 2016 novel Spirit Level (Orca) concerns the effects of transgendering on a family. "I’m always interested in what constitutes a family (that old nature/nurture thing), so I wanted to explore the bonds between donor-conceived siblings," she says. "Also, I became aware of the challenges facing transgender kids when a friend’s grandson started transitioning from male to female at age five. Watching his (now her) family and community’s response made me wonder what it would be like for my main character (Harry, female) to be attracted to a trans boy."

Sarah Harvey of Victoria, formerly a bookseller at the University of Victoria bookstore, also now works as an editor for Orca Books.

"I was born in Chicago, Illinois while my father was doing his residency in neurosurgery at the University of Chicago," she writes. "When I was six months old, my Canadian parents packed me and my two older brothers (then two and four) into their old car and high-tailed it to Victoria, B.C., where my father became the first neurosurgeon on Vancouver Island. I have never been back to Chicago, although I hear the music scene is awesome and the art galleries are terrific.

"My mother was an ardent reader—even in her last years, when glaucoma had claimed the vision in one of her eyes, she read omnivorously. When my brothers and I were growing up, she read to us every night before bed and took us to the library once a week. No wonder my brother Brian and I are writers and our older brother Rod is an English professor.

"When I was fifteen I got a part-time job at Ivy's Bookshop and caught the bookselling bug. It was the perfect job for me: all books, all the time and a paycheque, too. I went back to university in my thirties, when my children were three and ten. After graduation (I have an English degree) I worked as the trade book buyer at the University of Victoria Bookstore for fifteen years.

"I started writing reviews for the Globe and Mail in 1988 and for a while I had book columns in two local papers, the Times Colonist and Monday Magazine. In 1999, I met and became friends with Carol Shields, who invited me to submit an essay, “Mother, Interrupted,” to Dropped Threads 2, which was published in 2001. She also suggested that I consider writing children's books—so I gave it a shot and here I am."

Date Of Birth: May 26, 1950
Place Of Birth: Chicago, Illinois
Arrival in Canada: 1950


Puppies on Board (Orca, 2005) illustrated by Ruth Cowles. $19.95 978-155143-390-7 (Sarah Harvey once lived on a boat with a dog that had eleven puppies.) Winner of the Chocolate Lily Award 2007

Bull’s Eye (Orca, 2007) $9.95 978-1-55143-679-1

The West is Calling: Imagining British Columbia (Orca, 2008 ) with Leslie Buffam. Illustrated by Dianna Bonder. $19.95 978-155143-936-5

The Lit Report (Orca, 2008) $12.95 978-1-55143-905-1 Nominated for the Sheila Egoff Award and the Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize

Plastic (Orca, 2010) $9.95 978-155469-252-1

Great Lakes and Rugged Ground: Imagining Ontario (Orca, 2010) with Leslie Buffam. Illustrated by Kasia Charko. $19.95 978-1-55649-105-0

Death Benefits (Orca, 2010) $12.95 978-1-55469-226-2 [See review below] Nominated for the Bolen Books Children’s Book Award.

Shattered (Orca, 2011) $9.95 978-1-55469-845-5

Three Little Words (Orca, 2012) $12.95 978-1-4598-0066-3

Deadly (Orca 2013) $9.95 978-1-4598-0364-0

Spirit Level (Orca 2016)

Co-authored: Blood on the Beach (Orca 2017) with Robin Stevenson. $14.95 978-1-4598-1293-2

[BCBW 2017] "Kidlit"

Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever by (Orca $12.95)

Formerly the Uvic bookstore manager, Sarah N. Harvey, who lives in Victoria with “a combative fish named Yul,” has edited Bilaal Rajan’s Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever.

In January 2001 an earthquake in the Indian state of Gujarat killed thousands and left vast numbers homeless and destitute. Although he was four years old, Bilaal Rajan wanted to help. Bundled for the Toronto winter and toting a paper shopping bag with a hand-printed “Relief Fund” sign, he canvassed his neighbourhood selling clementines and raised $350. Bilaal went on to sell cookies for hurricane victims in Haiti and handmade plates for children living with HIV. In 2005, he was named UNICEF Canada’s Child Representative.

Now 12, Bilaal’s Fundraising Tips for Activist Kids includes putting a spin on bottle drives and bake sales to make your fundraiser stand out. For a book sale he organized, Bilaal invited children’s author Eric Walters (who had once interviewed him) to attend. Don’t hesitate to ask anyone to participate in your cause is another mantra. As is list-making, developing personal mission statements and team building. 978-1-55469-001-5

[BCBW 2008]

The Lit Report by Sarah N. Harvey (Orca $12.95)

Classics-reading, uberplanner Julia has been best friends forever with “big-haired, big-assed” Ruth, a drama queen with unsurpassed abilities at forging parents’ signatures.

As soon as they can kiss high school goodbye, they’re off for New York or London or Los Angeles. Like Babar the Elephant (who, in Julia’s opinion, doesn’t get nearly the literary respect he deserves) their lives will be full of travel, cool clothes and a gorgeous red car.

But then Ruth ditches Julia, goes to a party without her, gets drunk and does “it” for the first time. A month later she’s crying over sappy morning television and her “boobs hurt.”

But cerebral Julia has a plan. After all, her dad’s new wife is also pregnant and, fortuitously, hiring a midwife. Under the guise of doing a school report, Julia will interview the midwife, observe her in action and pass along every bit of nutritional and pre-natal advice to Ruth.

As narrated by the sharp-minded Julia, Sarah N. Harvey’s The Lit Report is not only about a missed period, two pregnancies and high-school graduation plans gone awry. Harvey has also deftly added a trilingual legal-secretary known for her Holy Trinity flower arrangements, a neo-natal nurse with a second pediatrician wife and a tattooed, ex-con, red-necked, bible-thumping pastor.

Along with the midwife who has “squid-ink blue” painted toenails, the supporting cast includes the delectable Jonah, with his Christian school boot-camp buzz cut and the “stamina of a triathlete,” and the dishy, sensitive yet foul-mouthed Mark.

Julia’s high school confidential plan will be risky, of course—but it has to work out. They hope Ruth can tuck her newborn in a basket and leave it on the steps of the church for some good Christians to adopt. Then the pair can simply pick up with their plans and head for New York or L.A. 978155143905

--review by Louise Donnelly

[BCBW 2008]

Death Benefits

To be as blunt as the main character in Death Benefits (Orca $12.95), the new young adult novel by Victoria editor Sarah N. Harvey, here is how Royce Peterson sums up his mother’s 95-year-old, dementia-addled father: celebrated cellist, legendary ladies’ man, abysmal parent, shitty grandparent.

Royce is temporarily off school, on the mend from a bout of mono, so he reluctantly agrees to look after foul-mouthed and egotistical Arthur Jenkins in return for fifteen bucks an hour. It’s better than working at McDonald’s. He figures the money will get him a car and out of Victoria, back to Nova Scotia where he belongs.

His grandfather, funky smelling and “skin and bones under his grubby old-man cardigan,” is holed up in a genuine Art Deco house with the curtains drawn tight, TV blaring CNN and MTV, and dirty dishes and garbage stinking up the kitchen. But out in the garage there’s a mint-condition 1956 black T-bird.

“Car like this,” his grandfather says, “you get laid all the time.”

Royce, who’s only got his “L” license and needs a licensed driver to accompany him, ferrets out his grandfather’s driver’s license (confiscated by his mother) and soon they’re off to a barber shop where the tall and delectable Kim shaves both their heads.

Bald, his grandfather brings the phrase death’s-head to mind but, even scarier to Royce, is the familial resemblance. Identical noses, same-shaped heads, matching bumps at the base of their skulls.

A monotonous yet comfortable routine develops. Royce sneaks open the curtains another inch, makes his grandfather coffee and takes him on a weekly outing in the T-bird like a “fussy baby.”

From Arthur’s off-hand stories and the photos and other artifacts unearthed during Royce’s casual searches of the old house, he slowly pieces together his grandfather’s life, and therefore begins to better understand his mother.

Arthur suffers a serious stroke. Then another. And another. “Kill me,” he croaks to Royce, even going so far as managing to peck out the desperate plea on his laptop.

Royce remembers that during one of the oncoming strokes he’d put off calling 911, figuring he could do the hourly checks just as well as ER. He had a bike date with a girl that could lead to a real date, and he didn’t want to blow it.

Royce, reeling with guilt and remorse, remains silent as they hook his brilliant, miserable, charming, horrid, petty, gallant grandfather to life support. Then support and redemption come from an unlikely and unexpected source.

Death Benefits was inspired by Sarah Harvey’s experiences caring for her father, John Edgar Harvey, who died at age ninety-five. He provided the spark (but not the model) for the character of Royce’s grandfather because he, too, refused to “go gentle into that good night.”

Having cared for an elderly parent, Sarah Harvey was inclined to agree with Edith Wharton who once said, "There's no such thing as old age, there is only sorrow." But Death Benefits is an uplifting story—a Driving Miss Daisy in Victoria, with a teenage boy and a cranky old man—because it explores the notion that there could be something more than sorrow for an old man and his grandson.

“I wanted to allow for the possibility of joy,” says Harvey. “Something that eluded my father.”

By Louise Donnelly

[BCBW 2010]

Sarah Harvey remembers IVY
Article (2014)

from Sarah Harvey
I started working at Ivy’s bookshop in 1965—I was fifteen and the store was a year old. My qualifications were minimal; I knew how to operate a cash register and I loved books. Turns out that my cash register experience was far less use than my love of books, since Ivy’s didn’t have a cash register, just a cash drawer.

The store’s first location was on Wilmot Place, a side street in the quiet (some might say quaint) district of Oak Bay. Heated by a single smelly oil heater, the store featured poetry, drama and fiction, as well as a children’s section (with a weird low table and attached chairs that children hated). There was also a larger, adult-sized table where tea was served every afternoon to anyone who was in the store.

Making tea was one of my first responsibilities, and it was a strict process, taught to me by Ivy’s sister, Ada, the store’s bookkeeper and main Ivy-wrangler.

Another of my duties was gift-wrapping and I still remember Ada teaching me to make a very specific kind of bow (no curly ribbon—that was cheating).

Ada was also VERY particular about how the bills were placed in the cash drawer—the Queen’s heads all had to face in the same direction—and I was always getting in trouble for forgetting that important rule (and for getting my long hair caught in the cash drawer).

Between 5 and 6 pm, Victoria’s literati dropped by regularly to drink lousy wine and discuss great literature.

The centre of all this activity was the brilliant, hard-working and eccentric Ivy Mickelson, who was reputed to have trained as a bookseller in New York City. Ivy was short-ish and round-ish with a head of unruly curls and a slash of magenta lipstick, which she famously applied without a mirror. She had two favourite expressions. The first was, “Oh, really!” said, eyes wide, in response to just about anything, from the trivial (“We’re out of digestives”) to the serious (“I’m pregnant”). She also proclaimed “Life is real! Life is earnest!” almost every day. It was years before I found out the next line of the poem is “And the grave is not its goal,” but it’s an expression I still use today.

Ivy-the-Indefatigable worked incredibly hard to build up the store’s reputation as the place in Victoria for Literature with a capital L. She refused to stock mass-market paperbacks (although she would pick them up at the local wholesaler if you asked nicely) but she had firm views on what constituted literature, and what did not. Woe betide the customer who challenged Ivy’s opinion on such matters.

Sarah Harvey is an editor for Orca Books, as well as an author and the former manager of the University of Victoria bookstore. One of her earliest jobs was at Ivy’s Bookshop.

Spirit Level by Sarah N. Harvey (Orca $14.95)
Review (2016)

from Alex Van Tol
Millions of people have been following Caitlyn Jenner’s tweets, so suffice to say there’s a revelation in Sarah N. Harvey’s eleventh novel, Spirit Level, that makes it very much in tune with the curiosity of our times.
But overall this is a modern story in which Harvey sets out to explore the bonds between donor-conceived siblings.

“I am always interested in what constitutes a family,” she says. “My overriding interest—and I can see this from looking at all my novels—is how families function, what creates a family, whether blood creates a family, or whether love creates a family.”

In Spirit Level we meet a donor-conceived teenager who has grown up knowing the circumstances around her birth. While helping her sociologist mother conduct meaningful research into homeless girls in Seattle, the teen transcribes her mum’s interviews with the teenaged girls, nearly all of whom feel their families have let them down badly.

In the process, the teen decides to explore her own family—including tracking down and connecting with donor-conceived half-siblings. Over the next several months, she meets and develops relationships with her two half-sisters. One she adores instantly, the other she dislikes. One of her half-sisters holds a secret that, when finally revealed, shifts the way the teen sees the world.
“It’s that whole nature/nurture thing,” says Harvey. “That’s part of what I wanted to talk about with this book.” Equally important, Harvey explores how the hunger to belong—to know where we’re from and who we belong to—is a universal urge.

“Who is my tribe? That is really the driving force,” she says. “Spirit Level is about the tribes, and the variety within those tribes.”
So it is that Harvey populates her story with a fistful of dynamic, non-mainstream characters rendered in vivid strokes: lesbian moms; a single mother risen from the ashes of addiction and abuse; a compulsive liar with a real possessiveness problem; and a transgendered character.
No stranger to digging into life’s thorny issues, Harvey has written about plastic surgery, teen pregnancy, aging and death, and mental illness.
Although Harvey makes her living as an editor, she says she is able to separate her writing from her day-job. “I allow the editor to have a place in the book after I’ve written a substantial amount of it,” she says. “But my writing style for a first draft is not to just ‘get it all out onto the page.’ My style is to write a chapter, go back over and revise it, and then write the next. I revise heavily as I go along, so my first drafts are pretty clean.”

It amounts to what she calls her slinky method: drafting freely, looping back to revise, then unrolling the new words. Not only does this approach help her remember where she’s at in the story, it develops the nuances of her characters, who start out as mere pencil sketches.
Families are complicated. They are beautiful things, ever-evolving things, safe things, where warm, soft bonds keep everyone knitted together in mutual harmony.

Families are also terrible things, warped things, immovable things where blood or marriage ties bind tightly enough to strangle.
Either way, families are not always defined by blood. Courageous types who follow their truths and break with others’ expectations can free themselves of toxic bonds and form their own healthy tribe consisting of people who actually make them feel good.

This is the central tenet of Harvey’s newest, 233-page young adult novel, a tension-rich, conflict-a-minute ride that packs a helluva didn’t see THAT coming, didja? whallop about halfway through. Complex and delicately layered, Harvey’s characters—and their families—stay with you.
Nobody’s story is straight. The dynamism and unconventionality of Harvey’s characters reflect today’s realities. Nobody’s family—indeed, nobody’s inner world—is entirely conventional, at least not once you look under the hood.


Alex Van Tol’s new book is Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants of B.C. (Royal B.C. Museum).