Thursday, September 1, 2016

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder

When her father dies suddenly in a plane crash, Wren Kaiser, 12, is devastated, finding herself living under a cloud of grief with no one to talk to.  Refusing to talk about it, Wren's mother reacts with anger, quickly loading up all her husband's possessions into black garbage bags as if trying to throw him out with the trash.  And when she discovers the money gone and the mortgage overdue, mother and daughter pack up the car, leaving memories and home in Marietta, GA behind them.

First stop is Chattanooga, TN.  Wren is enrolled in school, her mother get a job, and starts dating a man. When her mother refuses to talk to her about her father's death, and with no body to bury, Wren finds herself starting to bury roadkill.  A few weeks later, mother and daughter are on the road again, this time to Ohio.

The same pattern as in Chattanooga - new school, new job, new man, pack the car and leave.

Their third stop in the in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in a town called Pyramid and Wren is determined that it will be their last move.  At school, Wren is befriended by popular Carrie, who later prefers another new girl named Victoria.  But Wren is kept in the friendship, because she's good a math and gives Carrie the answers to their homework. So naturally, when their Social Studies teacher assigns them a project to work on with a partner, Carrie and Victoria stick together, and Wren gets stuck with Theo, a shy unpopular boy.

Meantime, Wren has found her father's binoculars and her old bird watching journal, and has also found a pond surrounded by a wetland where she can sit and observe the wide variety of birds that come there.  Unfortunately, the pond, called Pete's Pond, is slated to be destroyed and turned into a landfill, and it is Carrie's father runs the landfill project.  Wren and Theo decide to make Pete's Pond the subject of the school project.

As they get to know each other, Wren and Theo discover they are somewhat compatible - Wren bird watches, Theo takes photographs, Wren lost her dad and her mother has retreated into anger, refusing to talk about it, Theo lost his mother to cancer and his father has retreated into himself, refusing to talk about it, and neither is popular at school.  But they are well-liked and tremendously helped by the town librarian and the health store owner where Wren works part-time, and Randle, the owner of the junkyard who defies all our preconceived notions of who a junkman is.

Wren has determined that Pyramid is where she and her mother are going to remain, and she is working to add money to their savings in the hope that  it help on a down payment for a house.  But Wren is also still walking about under the cloud of grief about her father's death.

Can these two friends help each other through their grieving process as they work to save the pond for the wildlife that lives and visits there?

I've always enjoyed reading Monika Schröder's novels and Be Light like a Bird is no exception.  Her writing is solid yet lyrical, her plots unfold logically and easily, her main characters are unusual but totally accessible and believable.  So naturally, I was immediately pulled into this story narrated in the first person by Wren, whose voice sounded so authentic to me.  Perhaps because I lost my father as a teen and could relate to her feelings of being lost, of wanting to talk about her dad, and needing closure so badly that she begins to bury roadkill.  And while that sounds so very sad, the novel really is not overwhelmingly so.  It is more about coming to terms with the loss and then moving on.

I can't say I found Wren's mother to be a very realized character until the end until I thought about it.  For most of the novel, she was more like a nebulous anger  but she was supposed to be emotionally distant and absent so I wouldn't say that is writing flaw, but a really well-done characterization of her. On the other hand, Randle the junkman was only in the novel for a short time, yet Schröder has drawn him so well that I really felt the strengthening of his presence as he became more influential in Wren and Theo's life.

Be Light like a Bird is a quiet basically character driven coming of age novel that deals in themes of loss, grief, bullies, courage, hope, being true to oneself, even conservation.  In the birding journal that Wren's father gives her, he wrote "Be light like a bird, and not like a feather," a quote from Paul Valéry.  And that is just what Wren attempts to do in the novel - to be light like a bird means that you chose the direction of your life, her father explained to her, to be light like a feather means something else determines your direction.  It is a lesson both Wren and her mother needed to learn.

Be Light like a Bird would pair up nicely with Nest by Esther Ehrlich, another book about loss and hope and a young protagonist who is a bird watcher.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the author

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