Celia C. Perez
Kokile/Penguin, September, 2019 365 pages
Four different and diverse girls tell the story of their unlikely friendship and path to activism. Lane pulls the group together, as she is stuck staying at her grandmother's Florida home for the summer while her parents work out their divorce. She invites the daughter of her grandmother's assistant as well, as finding two random outsiders, to join her new club in a tree house on Grandma's property. Home-schooled her whole life, Aster breaks away from her guardian Grandfather, who is convinced that the wealth belonging to Lane's family was stolen from his ancestors and is determined to prove it. Cat sheds awareness on the cause that brings them all together. She loves birds and is horrified when the organization for girls that her mother forces her to join features a hat covered with feathers taken from birds hunted for this purpose. The daughter of Grandma's assistant, Ofelia, longs to be a journalist and records the group's adventures as accurately as she can. Ofelia wants to join a seminar in New York City for future journalists, if only she can prove to her overprotective parents that she is responsible enough to handle the big city. As the summer progresses the friendship between the seemingly unconnected girls grows, as does their passion to "save the birds". In order to fight for their cause they must bend the rules a bit and take some chances, but it’s all in the name of aviary rights, so it can't be wrong, right?
I am a big fan of Celia Perez--and not just because she's a fellow public youth services librarian. I loved The First Rule of Punk and was anxious to read her sophomore novel. As in the first, this new title features feisty characters who are struggling to fit in and find their place in the world. All four girls have a chance to tell the story from their own perspectives. I had a hard time telling the girls apart sometimes and thought that an intro page with faces and names would not go amiss, but that could just be my fifty-year-old brain, which has too many characters floating around. Perez uses the birds to encourage readers to find their own passions and to stand up for what they believe in. Staying away from politics, the cause she picks will translate to the reader’s personal agenda and encourage them to take a stand. Yes, the girls break rules and take crazy chances, but they pay the price for their transgressions and manage to win others over to their sides without any permanent scars. Perez also questions traditions and treasures from our country's past that might now be hurtful in today's context, challenging readers to question what is handed down and giving permission to let go. At its core this is a story about friendship, finding acceptance, loyalty and trust. Readers will wish for their own supportive groups like the one formed in this book and envision themselves spending the summer scheming in a tree house for the greater good.