Date Read: February 9 to February 13
Rating: 5 (of 5) stars!
My first encounter with this book was in middle school, when it was relatively new. My best friend absolutely loved it, and told me that I HAD TO READ IT. For some reason, I didn’t listen to her. I wish I had.
Reading this as an adult, this is everything that I want to see in children’s/young adult literature. There’s a sort of adventure, some fun quirky characters, a bit of mystery, some beautiful writing, and the all important moment of self-discovery. Sal is surprisingly introspective, yet closed off at the same time. She has a unique method of coping, which I think is true and relatable for kids– they are still making sense of the world, and are not always ready for what life throws their way.
One of my reading quirks is that often when I read a book that I very much liked, I will go look for its negative reviews. I want to understand what it is that people did not like about something I found great. The two main complaints I found were that: the “twist” in the story is predictable, and that Sal’s friend Phoebe (who is a main character) is annoying and not likable. I actually agree with both of these things, but think these are good for the target demographic of this book. Is it great literature? Maybe not (although I would at least call it good). But it is great children’s literature.
While the “twist” might be obvious to adult or even teenage readers, I think it works for the younger audience. This would be a great book for reading with 4th or 5th grade, even up through middle school. The somewhat vague but hinted at story of Sal’s mother is a good opportunity for less experienced readers to speculate on and make their own predictions. Along the same lines, although Phoebe is rather annoying, she is sympathetic. She may behave badly, but she’s also experiencing something that she really doesn’t know how to deal with. We are certainly not viewing Phoebe at her best. And yet, Sal is still her friend, and she feels for her when the “birds of sadness” begin to circle. I think it’s good to encounter characters that you don’t like, especially when they are in some way relatable. You don’t have to like Phoebe to feel bad for her, which I think is a lesson that many kids need to hear.
I also like to collect quotes from books. There were 8 from this book that I wrote down, which is more than usual. I don’t feel it quite necessary to share them all, but here are a few highlights:
“You can’t keep the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.”
“Maybe dying could be normal and terrible.”
“It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can’t fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open.”
Boris’s thoughts: “Lightweight, cozy snuggle book. 4 paws.”