Birdy by Jess Vallance

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Birdy by Jess Vallance

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: A compulsive tale of friendship that is cleverly written and hard to put down. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471404665

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Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2016

Frances has always been a loner, quiet and isolated, so when she's asked to look after the eccentric new girl Alberta for a few days she doesn't expect anything to come of it, only hoping that the whole incident will pass without embarrassment. The last thing she expects is for the new girl to become her best friend. Alberta's warm companionship is everything Frances has been missing for so many years, so when conflict inevitably arises, Frances is determined to do anything to save their friendship.

Frances makes for a brilliant narrator, with a thoughtful, observant and intelligent voice that is compelling despite the simplicity of the prose. She comes across as quite cold at first but is an easy character to get behind, as an underdog with a difficult background and home life, and she is well-deserving of a break from all the misery. Meanwhile, Alberta is very different - confident, eccentric, occasionally clueless, but never mean, she provides the perfect foil to Frances, and the friendship that forms between the two girls feels strong and genuine. But high school is nothing if not a minefield for friendships and their bond will be tested.

I don't want to delve too much into the story, as there are twists and surprises, compounded by an increasingly unreliable narrator, and I don't want to give anything away. We know right from the start that the story doesn't have a happy ending, so despite how idyllic the friendship initially appears to be, it's hard not to be wary and constantly on the lookout for signs of impending trouble. And while some obvious cracks do appear, some of the signs are very subtle and crept up on me much later. I thought I had the story pegged at various points, only to find myself deceived and genuinely, satisfyingly surprised by the shocking conclusion.

Birdy is a compelling story about friendship, one that is cleverly written and hard to put down – a strong debut from Jess Vallance, who I look forward to seeing more of.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to TheBookbag.

Fans of Birdy should check out The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan which is beautifully written and also sets a dark, uncompromising tone from the very first page. Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid still holds the record of being the darkest book I have ever read, and while some parts are hard to stomach, it is undoubtedly gripping. On the other end of the spectrum, Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson offers a much warmer tale of friendship, with a great plot and relatable, likeable characters that make for a perfect summer read. We've also enjoyed You Only Live Once by Jess Vallance.

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