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Free as a Bird
     

Free as a Bird

5.0 3
by Gina McMurchy-Barber, Eric Zweig
 

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Born with Down syndrome, Ruby Jean Sharp comes from a time when being a developmentally disabled person could mean growing up behind locked doors and barred windows and being called names like "retard" and "moron." When Ruby Jean's caregiver and loving grandmother dies, her mother takes her to Woodlands School in New Westminster, British Columbia, and rarely visits

Overview

Born with Down syndrome, Ruby Jean Sharp comes from a time when being a developmentally disabled person could mean growing up behind locked doors and barred windows and being called names like "retard" and "moron." When Ruby Jean's caregiver and loving grandmother dies, her mother takes her to Woodlands School in New Westminster, British Columbia, and rarely visits.

As Ruby Jean herself says: "Can't say why they called it a school — a school's a place you go for learnin an then after you get to go home. I never learnt much bout ledders and numbers, an I sure never got to go home."

It's here in an institution that opened in 1878 and was originally called the Provincial Lunatic Asylum that Ruby Jean learns to survive isolation, boredom, and every kind of abuse. Just when she can hardly remember if she's ever been happy, she learns a lesson about patience and perseverance from an old crow.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[The author] brings a sense of empathy and compassion to the storytelling... highly recommended for mature young readers.
Canadian Teacher magazine
Ruby Jeans story at Woodlands is terrible because its so true.

Vancouver Sun
As a tale of privation, Free as a Bird reads like Janet Fitch's novel White Oleander, but for young people. There's brightness at the end, but getting there is grim.
Bloom magazine
Without lecturing and through excellent use of narrative, this author renders the reader to be Ruby Jean. And through this exquisite experience, empathy and understanding flourish. McMurchy-Barber uses some of her experiences with her sister with Down syndrome to assist her in finding voice for this must-tell story.
• Vancouver Sun
As a tale of privation, Free as a Bird reads like Janet Fitch's novel White Oleander, but for young people. There's brightness at the end, but getting there is grim.
Resource Links
Gina McMurchy-Barber has written a powerful novel.

Canadian Children's Book News
A powerful and intense story about how recently our society considered some children to be worthless and expendable and a reminder that this is still the the case in many places.

What If? Magazine
Ruby Jeans unique voice coupled with the hardships thrown her way make for a poignant novel. Lessons of hope, perseverance and self-restraint are told by someone who was simply en retard.
VOYA - Cynthia Winfield
Ruby Jean Sharp's first-person narrative commands attention from the opening paragraphs where she describes her life at British Columbia's Woodlands School (for the mentally disabled, called "retarded" in the 1960s and 1970s). The story beautifully captures a young girl's mental, emotional, and behavioral regression after being deposited at age eight in a place where "the uniforms" held the keys and abused their power. Born with Down's syndrome, Ruby Jean's guileless telling presents her experience—unvarnished, including being called a "gaw'damn retard" and learning to scratch, bite, and urinate in self-defense. The clarity of her vision exquisitely related from her limited perspective tells readers more than could an account by hospital staff. Learning from her own heartbreaking abandonment and subsequent exploitation, Ruby Jean knows when to avoid new residents and how to keep her distance when other residents have emotional difficulties. Distant memories of a loving grandmother resurface when she is nurtured to live beyond the school's restrictive walls. Inspired by the author's personal experience of having a mentally challenged sibling and later working with special needs children at Woodlands, this powerful tale will appeal to readers at many age levels, especially those who loved Ben Mikaelsen's Petey (Hyperion/DBG, 1998/VOYA February 1999). Hypnotizing, much like Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon (1968), this tale elicits compassion for all persons and may enhance readers' abilities to empathize with people different from themselves. An excellent academic enrichment text, it would easily complement studies involving mentally or physically challenged people. Reviewer: Cynthia Winfield

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781554884476
Publisher:
Dundurn Press
Publication date:
02/22/2010
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
788,004
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
850L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 15 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Ruby Jean’s story at Woodlands is terrible because it’s so true."

"Gina McMurchy-Barber has written a powerful novel."

Meet the Author

Gina McMurchy-Barber was the recipient of the 2004 Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History. She majored in archaeology at Simon Fraser University, studied orangutans in Borneo under Dr. Birute Galdikas, and led backpack tours to Asia and South America. Her first novel, Reading the Bones, was nominated for the Silver Birch Award and the Langley Book of the year Award. She lives in Surrey, British Columbia.

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Free As a Bird 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
LoniB More than 1 year ago
"Free as a Bird" takes the reader into a world few have seen. Gina McMurchy-Barber knows this world and has given us a realistic look into the lives of children with disabilities. It is also a censure of some of the institutions that care for these people. They are so vulnerable; the institutions need watch dogs. N.B. This book is not at all a grim or depressing read. The characters are inspiring and memorable.It does what the best of novels and theatre do for me: help me understand and have compassion for worlds I have never experienced.