Bird by Crystal Chan
|Bird by Crystal Chan|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Jewel's family is still grieving over the death of her brother. Grandpa doesn't speak. Mum and Dad are at daggers drawn. And Jewel feels very alone. Simultaneously sad and lovely, this is one of the best middle grade books we have read in a long time.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: January 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016: Younger Fiction
Grandpa stopped speaking the day he killed my brother, John.
That was also the day Jewel was born. Birthdays for Jewel are miserable affairs during which her parents' grief for their son trump their joy in their daughter. In fact, Jewel doesn't see that her parents have any joy in their daughter at all. She's quite certain that nobody will ever love her as much as Mom, Dad and Grandpa loved John. Until, one day, she finds a mysterious boy sitting in one of her favourite trees. Grandpa doesn't like this new John, but Jewel does. She finally has someone that she can really talk to, who really understands the way her mind works. But John isn't everything he says he is. And his arrival is about to change Jewel's life forever...
Oh, man. Man, man, man. Poor Jewel. There is a huge amount of grief and pain in this novel and Jewel is bearing the brunt of it. Yes, Grandpa doesn't talk. Yes, Mom and Dad are griefstricken and bitter. But Jewel really does suffer the most. And this is because nobody is telling her the whole truth. She knows that her brother died on the day she was born. She knows that he jumped off a cliff because Grandpa nicknamed him Bird and he thought he could fly. She knows that nobody in her family - or in the whole town - has really got over it. But she senses that vital pieces of the puzzle are missing and that she's excluded from those secrets. And this makes her feel unloved, unwanted, and guilty.
Dad and Grandpa are superstitious. They believe in curses and evil Jamaican spirits. Mom doesn't. Who is right and how does it all fit in with Bird's death? Jewel needs her questions answered. So when she finds that her new friend has also lied to her, it's a particularly painful betrayal.
The story is told from Jewel's perspective and, as a young child, she can be a slightly unreliable narrator. What she sees, and so what the reader sees, is a child's eye view. And you sympathise so much with this little girl who is bright, independent, and curious about the world, that you get right inside her skin. If you love science, as Jewel does, then believing in evil spirits doesn't really make sense. So perhaps Mom is right. But then, you have the evidence of a dead brother and a dumb Grandpa, so perhaps Dad is right. Jewel copes with these conflicts by creating rituals and worlds of her own where her love of geology and her respect for superstition can coexist. And they're quite beautiful, especially when seen through the prism of her growing friendship with the boy who wants to escape the world altogether and become an astronaut.
Bird is a lovely story. It starts out with a veritable mess of unspoken pain but it ends on an upnote (I won't tell you how) taking in the joy of discovery, the unbreakable ties of family, and a genuine celebration of the cycle of life.
If Bird sounds good to you, you might also enjoy Heaven Eyes or Secret Heart, both by David Almond. And for another little girl with the weight of other people's pain on her shoulders, try the gorgeous Shine by Candy Gourlay.
You can read more book reviews or buy Bird by Crystal Chan at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Bird by Crystal Chan at Amazon.com.
Bird by Crystal Chan is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2014.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.