I was thrilled to be asked to an early reader, among many other amazing folks, of Extraordinary Birds by debut author, Sandy Stark-McGinnis. Once you get your hands on it, you are in for a treat. Now that the arcs are out, I can finally share my thoughts with you:
If you know anything about Extraordinary Birds you would agree that Eleanor Rigby should be playing in my head 24/7. Instead it’s that Lynyrd Skynyrd classic. Go figure.
11 year old December has a scar on the back of her neck. She believes that, one day, wings will pop out from that scar and feathers from each goosebump, making her a “freebird” (my words, not hers). That said, her diet is bird like, made mostly of sunflower seeds. She also sneaks out nearly every night to climb a tree to practice flying. Unsuccessful up to this point, December claims its only because her wings have not fully developed yet.
In and out of foster care since she was eight, December’s most recent placement is with “bird whisperer” and taxidermist hobbyist, Eleanor. Birds make their way to her when they are hurt and December is no exception. This book is one third Ada and Susan from Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life (hesitant to trust the one person who really loves you), one third magical realism, but not, Nikki Loftin’s Nightingale’s Nest (is December really a bird?) and one third a mashup of Wavie from Hope in the Holler by Lisa Lewis Tyre and the feel-goods of all works by Barbara O’Connor…All those parts make for one slurpie sweet treat.
“Every living thing should have the freedom to be who and what they are.” Amen. This not only goes for December, who is lucky to have Eleanor care for her and nurse her back to reality, but for December’s new friend, Cheryllynn. Cheryllynn, whose given name is Charlie, loves all pink and wearing dresses. Cheryllynn’s struggles with who she is addressed so appropriately for our younger middle grade readers in this novel and will open doors for further discussions. Even though the word “transgender” is never used, it is implied and understood. My only wish was that Charlie’s name was something more “masculine” to make her transition clearer for our younger readers. Several hints throughout the book strengthen the this theme of who we are is not necessarily a matter of choice. When Eleanor tries to climb the tree to be with December, she stops midway. “Just like it’s not a matter of choice whether the kiwi flies, it’s not my choice to be afraid of heights.” We do have a choice in what books to read. Next Spring, choose Extraordinary Birds.
As a reader of Extraordinary Birds, be prepared to hold your breath. Don’t get frustrated. Will December see Eleanor as someone to trust, love and be the keeper of her forever home? Please trust me and don’t give up. I promise you, there is hope for the freebird.