….instead of reading this book.
Let me preface this two different ways:
- I will read any book with the word bird in the title (because I’m a word bird).
- I don’t often read middle grade recommendations. The last middle grades category book that I read was Wildwood by Colin Meloy.
I should probably also preface with: I’m a jaded reader. This is just to say (William Carlos Williams) that I don’t like the predictable, the old worn fable that’s not told in a new way, the “everything falls into place” (ex: The Kite Runner), and I definitely don’t like kitschy magic (See: The Ocean at the End of the Lane).
I’ve gushed over Alice Hoffman before. Normally, her magic is just that, pure magic. The kind you can hold in your palm and it mutters into the air and before you know it, you’ve followed the unlit candle into the dark and someone is a witch, and another woman has unearthed her dead husband, or called to her side a forgotten mother. She’s more of a quilt maker than an author. This, Nightbird, was not that.
Nightbird is the story of Twig (fabulous character names) who has a strange and lonely family and is not allowed to hang out with other people in town because her mother has a secret hidden in the attic. Throughout the first few chapters, the reader learns the family secret as it relates to the witch’s cottage at the edge of the orchard. Coincidentally, the family that is a descendent of the beginning witch moves into the cottage and the whole secret becomes anew (with pie, young best friends, and an herb garden). Twig runs into a lot of members of Sidwell (the small town on the fringe of a great wood). Authors seem to believe these people actually live in small towns (librarians, town historians, men who study owls of the woods, sisters of the witch, community theater directors that direct plays involving a small town history). I’ll have you know though, since I live in a small town with a Main St. and a Church St. (and all the churches are on Church Street), our town librarian does not know the history of every child born in the town. While this is quaint, this isn’t (Wyoming). Is Wyoming like that? I’ve probably read too many novels.
Anyway, Twig is the loner that becomes the example. This is the moral of the fable. (Well, she doesn’t become the example, but her family does, as they change the tune of a town that believes in tragedy and stereotyping). I will say that this book was tenderly written. I could tell that Alice Hoffman wanted to reach a nine-year-old girl that searched the landscape of paned windows for enchantment. I think between eighth grade and thirty years, a girl would struggle not to feel like this was a corny version of an adult Alice Hoffman novel. (Corny was the best word I had there).
What is especially corny is the town’s simple acceptance of the hidden fantasy secret. I really don’t want to ruin this for anyone, but in small town, American, cultural history even when people have seen “the other” do something wonderful, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to change their preconceived ideas about this “other,” ESPECIALLY when they haven’t known this “other” their whole life. Small towns are notorious for gossip, judgment, and stereotypes, especially when very few people have left the town for most of their life (making the town the majority of their world view). I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone from a small town, I do adore my small town of cotton fields and broken-hearted barns, but I can say with all honesty that I’ve never seen more of the listed. The people of Sidwell just accept this mystery straight-off. And even when the mystery changes towards the end, there is no response to the newness from the townspeople.
If you need a good monster hunt (like the town claims they will have one night due to some deviant’s unfortunate graffiti art), just watch Beauty and the Beast. It will take you just as long as it would to read this novel, and at least you’ll get a musical. The townspeople in Nightbird will be toting knives and bats, but with Beauty and the Beast you have clubs and pitchforks, so that’s just … much more exciting.
My biggest problems will come in the form of a list so I can try not to give things away:
- Very little character development of the pivotal climactic character.
- The mother in the book is significantly agoraphobic, but gives out pies like friendship bracelets.
The morning men (aka the older men who sit around the diner table discussing town news) have a chorus of opinions that are never heard but from Twig’s mouth.
- The characters leave and return with little information about what they were doing or why they returned, or why they even went in the first place.
- The fire department at one point refuses to put out a fire.
- The townspeople know each other, but since Twig has returned little to no one has tried to be her friend, so much so that she walks around practically unnoticeable until Julia moves to town and refuses to do anything BUT hang out with Twig.
- The descendants of the witch aren’t witchy at all.
- Julia explains to her sister that there’s a secret, and that she’s the direct descendent of the cause of this secret and so she has to turn back the secret. The older sister just naturally accepts and creates an outfit based on all of this for funsies (I mean WHAT THE HECK is happening here).
- Pacing was slow and incredibly boring for so much “magic.”
- By “magic,” she means one character who is bound to a spell and has a quirky body issue.
As per usual, I’m one of the only people on Goodreads that feels this way. I’m a Grinch.
If you’re like me, and you’re jaded, the best part of this story is the descriptions of the pie. Mmmm, I can almost taste the pink apple. Reminds me of the hilled orchards where Abby and I enjoyed baked apple turnovers from a barn warehouse in Tennessee. I would eat my own hand to get at one of those turnovers. In fact, I’d rather use this book as a recipe collection than I would an actual novel.
Really, just “Control F” and find the secret ingredient of the pie and make a few rather than spending that two hours to read this book.