Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Summer and Bird

Truth: I'm an only child.

Odd way to start a blog post? Perhaps. At least when it comes to a book review. But there's a point to this, I swear.

I am an only child and while I have a flock of cousins both older and younger whom I have great relationships with, they certainly are not siblings. I've always claimed: my cousins are like my siblings, but as I grew older I noticed that the relationships siblings have with each other are much different than my relationship with my cousins. Basically, I don't understand siblings nor their relationship.

Often enough, I write out my desires in my novels, I write about characters who have siblings. I tend to get attracted to books  that feature the bonds of siblinghood because it makes me feel as if I have a better understanding of that kind of relationship. To me, it's something important and borderline magical.

I also tend to be drawn to the retellings of myths and fairy tales. I'm a sucker for that stuff. 

Summer and Bird focuses heavily on family dynamic. The bond of two sisters, the frustration amongst family members, how the action of one person can affect many others, and it's all nestled into a mystical world and entwined by the magic of the Swan Maiden.

The writing is beautiful and the narration is by someone who is nameless but omniscient. In the form of storytelling, they'll hint at future events, assure us we'll get to those points, and give us a dialogue that reminds me so much of fairy tales from childhood.

Summer (age 12) and Bird (age 9) are complete opposites. One is light, sunshine and freshness while the other is air, cool and more like nature. The girls wake one morning to discover their parents and cat have disappeared. Not in the magical sense, but by means of leaving in a hurried manner and only leaving behind a picture note that may or may not have multiple meanings that could or could not be indicating where their parents are.

The girls decide to go after their parents and find them, rather than going to authorities. I remember when I was little, one of my bigger fears was of my parents disappearing or abandoning me. A childish fear but one that was still very real and frightening for me. So, right away this book points out something children readers can identify with.

The girls go into the big woods: Summer tries to track and be the logical one while Bird follows gut feelings. A patchwork bird tries to help and they are brought to the world of Down. After traveling for some time, sleeping in the woods, trying to start fires and eat what snacks they have, Bird leaves Summer to go "on a path of her own."

I, for one, can't imagine just hiking into the woods as a child and sleeping on the ground. I would be frightened of what lurks in the dark. Even now I can't really imagine being able to do that. But again, we're introduced to another frightening idea -- losing your sister. For Summer, she is both angry and ashamed. Angry at her little sister for not listening and staying by Summer's side; but ashamed for having lost her little sister, her responsibility.

The girls from this point forward go on their own adventures. They learn, separately, the history of their parents romance -- that their mother is actually a swan that can become a human when shedding her feathered coat, and their father "captured" their mother's heart by hiding her coat. There's the typical villain of the story -- a crazed woman who eats birds and has left many others to go insane in cages. She whispers vile things into the ears of one of the girls and makes her idea of her parents rather twisted. While the other girl hears the truth and is able to have a better understanding and open heart.

But the villain doesn't remain the solitary villain. There are villains in other forms -- in that people make mistakes, or the choices they make can create future issues. It's all about choices. The swan queen -- the mother -- left her kingdom and her subjects to near ruin. The father made a selfish choice to hide his wife's coat but, when he wanted to give it back to her, discovered it had been stolen. The girls make their own choices and react in their own ways, both becoming a little darker, a little more heavy, with the facts of the world.

The family somewhat falls apart due to the choices of everyone involved so the "happily ever after" is somewhat lacking. However, happily ever after does not necessarily have to fit into one mold. It can be seen in many ways, even if it doesn't appear perfect.

This book, while beautifully written and geared towards children, does have a lot of dark qualities in it. I don't know if it would necessarily be child-appropriate. Although, often times children may not fully grasp the concepts at hand. It's also somewhat lengthy and the plot is slow to really develop. I found myself really pushing to get moving with the book during the first half, but once I passed that halfway-point I seemed to more easily make my way through. I would say, if anything, this would be more enjoyable for teens or adults. But every child is different, so I would leave this to a parent or guardian to determine if a child would enjoy this book.

Last Week's Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker
Next Week's Review: The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein

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