Bird by Crystal Chan (review copy) - '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.'
Twelve-year-old Jewel never knew her brother, but all her life she has lived in his shadow. Then one night, on her birthday, she finds a mysterious boy sitting in her oak tree. His name is John. And he changes everything. From Goodreads
When I first heard about Bird, I was so intrigued. You only have to read the above to think, "Woah!" And wonder what happens next, what this does to a family. I was so eager to read it, and so glad I did. Bird is such a moving story!
Twelve years have passed since Bird's death, yet Jewel's home is still so full of grief. Bird may be dead, but he's not gone. He's there in Grandpa's silence, in Jewel's mum's endless sadness, in her dad's obsession with duppies - evil spirits. Despite no-one speaking about Bird, or allowing Jewel to do so, the Porter's hearts are so heavy with grief, Bird can be felt in the tension that permeates the whole house. There is so much of Bird in that house, to Jewel, it feels as though she is often forgotten, even though she's the one that's alive. She tries so hard to be good and make her family happy, but it's as if they just don't see her. But once she meets John, things change; John sees her, John hears her, John understands her, and his friendship changes her.
Bird is such a heartbreaking story. Jewel is full of her own sadness because of the lack of love she feels. John offers her a glimmer of hope, of what it's like to have someone who wants to talk to her and take an interest in what she has to say, something she doesn't really experience at home. There is so much sadness in this book, you could reach out a hand and touch it. You can understand it, because how awful would it be for a parent to lose a child, but you can't help feeling so sorry for Jewel. She can't do much right.
Bird is full of beautiful imagery and language. Jewel is very philosophical and quite deep for her age, and the way she views things and describes things... it's just remarkable. She's so smart, but with a child's innocence and beliefs, her narration is just gorgeous. It's like listening to the flow of a stream. It's a book that would be wonderful to listen to as a audiobook; it needs to be read out loud
Jewel feels something at the cliff where her brother died, when she sneaks off to go there. Not his presence or anything like that, but the life in everything around her. She is quite ritualistic when she's there.Since she was eight, each year on her Birthday, she would go and add a stone to a circle she created that first year, step inside the circle, and feel the weight of everything just fall away. She also buries pebbles, whispering to them her hopes, her fears, her worries, giving them to the earth to take care of for her. There is something so calming and peaceful about reading of her time at the cliff; like you can feel the tension at her home, you can feel the peace at the cliff. It's so beautiful.
In the same sense, it was really interesting to read about Jamaican superstitions. Jewel's dad and Grandpa took things too far, I feel, but it gave credibility to Jewel's mixed heritage. The various beliefs, like those about duppies, are just fascinating, and help you understand the way of life in her house. Her dad and Grandpa believe these things so completely, and this belief is partly why things are so tense at home. Duppies and Bird's death. Blame and trickery and fear. It's really something.
Bird is such a heartbreakingly beautiful novel about loss, friendship, family and love, and it will gently steal your heart. Let it.
Thank you to Tamarind for the review copy.
Published: 30th January 2014
Crystal Chan's Website