Capstone, 2016 239 pgs
Our story begins with roadkill. First person narrator Wren finds a dead squirrel on the side of the road, pulls out a trowel she keeps in her backpack and begins to bury it, revealing first that this is something that she does on a regular basis and secondly that she recently lost her father in a plane accident. Since the accident her mother has behaved strangely: distant, cold, and self-absorbed. She burns or trashes all of Dad's belongings, throws Wren in the car and moves them out of state. After finding two jobs and starting Wren in a horrible new school, she meets an older man and enters into a clandestine relationship. When the relationships fails, she packs Wren up and repeats the cycle. Finally at the top of Michigan Wren convinces Ma to stop in the town of Pyramid. Wren immediately connects to the town and finds a job and a new friend at the local health food store. When starting sixth grade, yet again, Wren is befriended by popular mean girl, who is using her for her math abilities. When Wren is paired with class nerd Theo on a project she is less than thrilled. To her surprise, she and Theo have a lot in common including the loss of a parent, grieving and emotionally distant remaining parents, an interest in bird watching, and the need of a friend in whom to confide and trust. Their friendship solidifies as they become involved in saving a local wetland, where they both enjoy going to watch birds and the mean girl's father wants to develop. Through her work on the project, her new friends, and the gift of time, Wren begins to heal and mature. Eventually she breaks through to her mother and learns that no one is perfect, even adults that we respect, and sometimes situations are not simply black and white.
A lot happens in the 239 pages in this book. So much that even though the story packs an emotional punch and deals with many ethical issues, the plot moves along swiftly and it never drags or gets boring, as many heartfelt stories tend to. Keeping the book in the first person will allow readers to identify with Wren and experience her struggles and emotions right along with her. The book begins very sad and it seems like no one is there to help Wren out and to validate her grief. I found myself cheering for this character, wishing firstly that she gets to stay in Pyramid, and then that she makes a friend, and then that she stands up to the bully and stops being afraid of being friends with Theo, and then finally that the mother snaps out of it and connects with her. All of those things happen, which will leave the reader letting out a sigh of relief again and again as they turn pages. I have kids that come into my library looking for "sad books". This one will totally fill the bill, but will leave the reader with a feeling of optimism, hope, and healing by book's end. Although Wren is girl, both boys and girls will relate to this story and it would work well for both school use and book discussion. There are many themes that come to light including protecting the environment, standing up to bullies, the power and peace of bird watching, kids can do big things, and to be "light like bird, not a feather" and control your own destiny.. The adults are flawed, yet present and helpful. I love the librarian character, who is very cool, treats kids with respect, and saves the day in the end with the power of knowledge. Other characters are also well developed and interesting. Give this book to fans of Counting by Sevens and The Thing about Jellyfish.