Random House, 2015 195 pgs
Twig is a seemingly unremarkable young girl hiding a remarkable secret. Because of a family curse dating back to the Revolutionary War, the males in Twig's family are born with wings and the ability to fly. Twig and her mother live quiet lives in the country outside their small north-eastern town. Twig is not allowed to have friends or get involved with anyone on a personal level in order to keep the family secret: a sixteen year-old flying brother with wings who stays hidden by day in the attic and flies around with his owl friends by night. Twig's lonely life changes when a new family moves into the cottage next door, descendants of the witch who set the curse. The family has a girl Twig's age named Julia who becomes her instant best friend. Julia's older sister, Agate, discovers brother James' secret and a nocturnal friendship/romance blossoms. Meanwhile the townsfolk are determined to eliminate the "Sidwell Monster", who has been seen flying around, as well as committing various offenses. A mystery develops as to whom is placing threatening messages all over town to save the local owls as a wealthy landowner wants to build on the area's forest land. Twig finds allies in the town's historian and her nephew, a recent transplant hired by the local newspaper. The story rises to a crescendo the night of the town's annual play, re-enacting the dramatic story of the Sidwell witch and her curse. The mystery of the notes is solved, the true identity of the newspaper man is revealed and James' identity is exposed. Will the town accept him or attempt to banish him (or worse)? Will James remain cursed forever? Read to the end of this magical tale to find out!
I am a long-time fan of Alice Hoffman. I love the fairy tale quality of her writing, which is mostly realistic, yet contains magical elements written in a way that are truly believable and digestible. Nightbird is true to her characteristic style, yet for a younger audience. This is not a magical land of high-fantasy. It is everyday, small-town America where a curse has allowed a young man to fly. It is up to his sister to keep his secrets and, eventually, find a way out of the curse. I love that the tale is told through Twig's eyes and not her flying brother's, adding dimension to the story. Hoffman does not reveal at first James' ability, building up to the big reveal, all while dropping hints that something is coming. Other plot twists follow, including the true identities of the newspaper man and the culprit who is leaving threatening messages around town. Twig is an awesome character who experiences growth throughout the story, including a name change by the end, symbolic of her new self. This is both a quiet and atmospheric story, yet contains enough of an interesting plot that young readers should enjoy it. The chapters are a bit long, but there are breaks every few pages. Twig's mother is a baker, using apples that can only be found in their special small town. Hoffman includes a recipe in the back of the volume, welcoming the reader to make one of Mom's specialties. Most people have had fantasies about flying (I know I have). Through Twig and James' story we can experience the awesomeness of flight and believe that it could really happen, if only you know a witch.