There are some books I’m sent to review that I desperately want to read but I’m scared to, for one reason or another. Bird is one of those.
I love how it looks. And the feather that I was sent with it. But the excerpt on the cover is stark and unforgiving and I was scared it would be too traumatic, too emotional.
Grandpa stopped speaking the day he killed my brother, John. His name was John until Grandpa said he looked more like a Bird with the way he kept jumping off things, and the name stuck. Bird’s thick, black hair poked out in every direction, just like the head feathers of the blackbirds, Grandpa said, and he bet that one day Bird would fly like one too. Grandpa kept talking like that, and no one paid him much notice until Bird jumped off a cliff, the cliff at the edge of the tallgrass prairie, the cliff that dropped a good couple hundred feet to a dried-up riverbed below. From that day on, Grandpa never spoke another word. Not one.
The day that Bird tried to fly, the grown-ups were out looking for him – all of them except Mom and Granny. That’s because that very day, I was born.’
I don’t like books about children dying. Or siblings dying. And yet I keep reading them. This isn’t a book about grief, and yet it is. There’s a lot that goes over my head about beliefs and so on, but that might be because I don’t quite have the context. Telling us this is the only mixed race family in a particular environment doesn’t mean so much when there’s not that much about the environment. Or perhaps the dissociation is intended to underline the differences?
For me though, the strength of the book is in the development of the family relationships and the main character, Jewel. She’s at a breaking point, growing up, and that forces changes throughout her broken and battered family, as well as beyond it. There’s no magic wand, quick resolution or instant happy ending, but it’s still a book that feels complete, and that I feel I may well return to, as I think there’s more in there that I’ve probably not absorbed in this first reading.
For me it brings to mind To kill a mockingbird, Wonder, and Roll of thunder, hear my cry. Perhaps not an intuitive selection of recommended reading, but the ones that I feel will complement or extend it.