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Literature | Review Spillworthy by Johanna Harness

If you are a writer and own a twitter account, you’re bound to have heard of her, if not of Harness herself, you are likely to have had some form of knowledge or contact with the #amwriting hashtag. Like a robin leading the dawn chorus, you will hear Harness’s short burst of song beginning with “4:50 am here in #idaho and I #amwriting” which is usually followed by “Are you writing? The #amwriting community welcomes you.” Harness, a former teacher; home schooler, workshop leader and sheep herder , lives in beautiful rural Idaho with her husband and children where they explore their natural surroundings together and celebrate the beauty of community. It is Harness’s finely tuned spirit with her surroundings and sharp observations of the youth around her which stands out in her debut novel Spillworthy.


Ulysses Finch is a homeless ten year old boy and creator of the “Spillworthy” concept, which is the act of writing one’s thoughts and releasing them into the world to be shared by anyone who is willing to read, even if it is left unread, it is the act of release that is of importance here. In this “middle-grade” novel, that’s ages 12 upwards to us Brits, Harness not only provides a voice for the usually ignored youth, but she allows the reader to see how beautiful and deeply thought they can be. Harness does not shy away from the big, grim and terrifying issues that we face as parents’ and as children, by delving deep into the world of drugs, distrust and abandonment.


When Ulysess is thrust into the arms of his estranged grandparents in rural Idaho, he becomes drawn to two other youngsters who, like him have an absent parent in their life; it is this yearning for completeness which draws their voices together into a form of distorted harmony. As a collective, they seek out to help one another through writing in their journals and leaving them in a spot where they can share their inner thoughts and fears. This act of diary sharing immediately takes away the solitariness that is indeed diary writing. How many people begin a diary entry “dear diary”? Or even give their diary a name just to blunt the loneliness and treat the paper being scribed on as a living, breathing entity. It can almost be a disappointment when it doesn’t respond back; to provide you with the answer you’re looking for, to console you in a moment of great sadness or simply nod along in agreement. In this rare case, this solitary act morphs into a communal friendship, almost an extension of what we have today in twitter, facebook or blogs, where people share thoughts ad anguishes with strangers.


It is Harness’s attentiveness to her characters’ and audience which sets this novel apart from what has been written before. She brings originality and poetry to the reading table which is usually left out in literature for this age group, she knows that poetry has no age limit. Continuing in the vein of originality, Harness has asked each reviewer to whom she has bestowed two copies of the book, to release one copy into the world, this act of “catch and release” as she calls it will be logged on a website in order to trace the book’s journey. Only someone who truly loves the art of storytelling would create such a fantastical idea.


For more information on Spillworthy and Harness’s vision, go to  and maybe become a part of a new literary wave.

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