Author: Crystal Chan
Length: 6 hours
Narrator: Amandla Stenberg
Original Publication Date: 2014
Genre(s): Middle-grade, Contemporary, Fiction
Jewel was born the same day her younger brother Bird died. While she was coming into the world, her 5-year-old brother jumped off a cliff near their house. Bird’s real name was John, but Jewel’s grandfather nicknamed him Bird. Jewel’s parents blame her grandfather for Bird’s death, as the nickname made him think he could fly. Since that night, her grandfather hasn’t spoken a word. In fact, there are many unspoken things in Jewel’s family. Things that, eventually, have to come out.
I was hesitant to read this book at first. It takes a special kind of middle-grade book to keep me interested. And surprisingly, Bird had a way of keeping me hooked. The novel is told in first-person from the perspective of Jewel, a 12-year-old girl who feels unloved by her grieving parents. She feels unwanted in the shadow of her brother’s death. Because she feels so alone, she often leaves the house to go play at the cliff where her brother jumped. There, she digs for arrowheads and rocks, and talks to trees and the sky.
Honestly, the story reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline with the family dynamic. The parents are incredibly immature and tend to neglect their own child. Similarly to Coraline, the mother in Bird is super rude. She has some redeeming moments, but for the most part, I did not forgive her character. She reminded me of my mom at times, putting on this face for guests that doesn’t truly reflect who she really is. At one point, Jewel’s newfound friend says, “You’re lucky you have a cool mom.” And Jewel is so annoyed because she knows her mom wears a public mask. I felt that on a spiritual level.
The novel gave me nostalgia for a childhood I didn’t have. Jewel was allowed to leave the house and go out whenever she wants. Her parents are, of course, neglectful, but she was free, and I was jealous of that freedom. I really liked Jewel as a character. She was immature at times, as all 12-year-olds are, but she was curious and intelligent in a way that most kids I know are not. She stood up for herself in ways I wish I could have. I admired Jewel a lot. I love reading middle-grade featuring strong, smart characters.
The novel was never boring. I was always interested in something—the folklore/mythology, Bird’s death, Jewel’s grandfather’s silence, the mysterious new kid in the neighborhood. Something always had my attention. And the pace wasn’t too slow, either, which was nice. I don’t come across many middle-grade books with slow paces. That’s a big reason I enjoy them.
The ending had me almost tearing up at work. It was certainly an emotional conclusion that had my heart racing. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
–“It’s almost as if we’re afraid of words. They hang in the air, unspoken, and then seeing that they’re not going to be used, they shrivel and die.”
–“Most people can’t see what’s in front of them if they don’t know what they’re looking for. But once you know what you’re looking for, you wonder how you didn’t see it.”
–“I don’t like crying in front of people because it shows them the holes that you have on the inside.”