Imperfect Birds: A Novel [NOOK Book]


A powerful and redemptive novel of love and family, from the author of the bestselling Blue Shoe, Grace (Eventually), and Operating Instructions.

Rosie Ferguson is seventeen and ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She's intelligent-she aced AP physics; athletic-a former state-ranked tennis doubles champion; and beautiful. She is, in short, ...
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Imperfect Birds: A Novel

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A powerful and redemptive novel of love and family, from the author of the bestselling Blue Shoe, Grace (Eventually), and Operating Instructions.

Rosie Ferguson is seventeen and ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She's intelligent-she aced AP physics; athletic-a former state-ranked tennis doubles champion; and beautiful. She is, in short, everything her mother, Elizabeth, hoped she could be. The family's move to Landsdale, with stepfather James in tow, hadn't been as bumpy as Elizabeth feared.

But as the school year draws to a close, there are disturbing signs that the life Rosie claims to be leading is a sham, and that Elizabeth's hopes for her daughter to remain immune from the pull of the darker impulses of drugs and alcohol are dashed. Slowly and against their will, Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the fact that Rosie has been lying to them-and that her deceptions will have profound consequences.

This is Anne Lamott's most honest and heartrending novel yet, exploring our human quest for connection and salvation as it reveals the traps that can befall all of us.
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Editorial Reviews

Julie Myerson
Throughout this admirable novel, Lamott's observations are pitch perfect—likably, even brutally unsentimental, not just about parental hopes and anxieties but about the particular and touching fragility of simply being a teenager. I blushed at the description of the mother, seen through her daughter's eyes…And you ache with the truth of Elizabeth's visceral longing for her strong, beautiful, frightening daughter…Lamott nearly always tempers her understandable evangelism with honesty and humor. Laughter redeems this book, and so does the fact that it's ultimately not just a novel about deception and drugs but about the great big bloody battle of love and sorrow that is parenthood.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
The perspective switches back and forth from Rosie's self-destructive behavior to Elizabeth's panicked efforts to figure out what's going wrong. But Lamott remains impressively dispassionate, recording Rosie's descent without a hint of Go Ask Alice preachiness. Instead, she allows the slow burn of this tragedy to smolder. It's a startlingly honest depiction of middle-class teenage life in all its baffling contradictions…This is a mature, thoughtful novel about an all-too-common family crisis, and in typical Lamott fashion, it doesn't ignore the pain or exalt in despair. The salvation she offers in these pages is hard-won.
—The Washington Post
People Magazine
The vibrant, wilful California girl at the center of two earlier Lamott novels (Rosie and Crooked Little Heart) is back, and this time Rosie Ferguson has her mom and stepdad seriously worried. A straight-A beauty, she's started lying and dabbling in drugs-or maybe more than dabbling, since her best friend was just shipped off to rehab. Lamott, as famous for her spiritual writings as for her fiction, goes easy on the religion here, but there's plenty of Marin County therapy speak. ("You need to tell me all of your unsaids, Elizabeth," a friend tells Rosie's mother straight-facedly. "You've been using your sincereness in counterfeit ways.") The groovy talk nearly swamps the story, but Rosie and her appealing family keep you reading. And Lamott nicely captures a dilemma that will resonate with any parent of teens. "You had to let people sink or swim," Elizabeth muses, "but ... how could you ask a mother to let her child sink?"


Did Lamott draw on life with son Sam for her new book? She detailed his first year in her memoir Operating Instructions, but says it was her own youth that informed Birds. Now 20, Sam has a son of his own (Jax).
—Kim Hubbard

Publishers Weekly
Rosie Ferguson, the young heroine of Lamott’s Rosie and Crooked Little Heart, almost succumbs to the drug culture in this unsparing look at teenagers and parents who walk the tightrope between all-encompassing love and impotent fury. The former tennis star is now a straight-A high school senior, living with her mother, Elizabeth, and stepfather, James, in Marin County. Elizabeth, still susceptible to emotional breakdowns and fighting lapses into alcoholism, is acutely aware of Rosie’s vulnerability, and she and James are vigilant in watching Rosie’s behavior, knowing, as everyone does, that drug deals go down in the town’s central square, and that the kids are drinking, sexually active, and aligned against their parents. Lamott captures this gestalt with her distinctive mixture of warmth, humor, and sensitivity to volatile emotional equilibrium, going laser-sharp into teen mindsets: the craving for secrecy and excitement, the thrill of flaunting the law and parental rules. Eventually forced to confront Rosie’s peril and its potentially marriage-destroying power, Elizabeth and James take decisive action and risk their family. Straddling a line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, this novel is Lamott at her most witty, observant, and psychologically astute. (Apr.)
It is sobering to think that Rosie Ferguson is your typical teenage girl. On one hand, she's in the throes of her senior year in high school: concerned with body image and boyfriends, BFFs and boredom, and, of course, the daily trauma of living with parents who are so hopelessly, well, hopeless. On the other hand, she is an adept addict who's never met a substance she wouldn't abuse or a male she wouldn't seduce. Juggling these two worlds demands bigger and more frequent scores, and more facile lies, while Rosie's parents, recovering alcoholic Elizabeth and workaholic stepfather James, are reluctant to enforce even the lamest disciplinary rules for fear of losing Rosie's love-until one night when her world comes crashing down, and Elizabeth and James have no choice but to send Rosie to a wilderness rehab program. Reprising characters from her previous novels, Rosie (1997) and Crooked Little Heart (1998), Lamott intuitively taps into the teenage drug culture to create a vivid, unsettling portrait of a family in crisis. As she eschews the cunning one-liners and wry observations that had become her signature stock-in-trade, Lamott produces her most stylistically mature and thematically circumspect novel to date.
—Carol Haggas
Library Journal
Lamott returns to some of her favorite characters in this exploration of raising a teenager in today's difficult world. In Rosie, Rosie was a child dealing with her mother's alcoholism. In Crooked Little Heart, she was a 13-year-old tennis champion beginning to understand boys, self-doubt, and the continued stress with her mother. In this novel, Rosie is now 17, and while she holds it together in school, her hidden life is all about drugs and alcohol. Since Rosie masks it so well, her mother, Elizabeth, now a recovered alcoholic, tries to give her room to experiment. But once the bottom falls out, Elizabeth realizes the consequences of her misplaced trust. Lamott covers faith and its part in life and personal struggles—a topic that's close to her heart and nicely portrayed through Elizabeth's best friend, the spiritual Rae. VERDICT This is a deft, moving look at an extremely fragile and codependent mother-daughter relationship and how an out-of-control teenager affects a life, a friendship, and a marriage. Lamott is consistently wonderful with this type of novel, and once again she does not disappoint. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/09.]—Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Lamott, best known for nonfiction, including popular books on writing (Bird by Bird, 1994) and spirituality (Traveling Mercies, 1999), returns to the novel with a sequel of sorts to one of her earliest and best, Rosie (1983). A child in that novel with an alcoholic mother, Rosie is now 17 and her mother, Elizabeth, is generally sober through Alcoholics Anonymous, though not without the occasional relapse. More beautiful than she knows, desperate to fit in and find love, Rosie insists to her mother, "I'm a good kid, Mom." But as a friend suggests, "Even the good kids break your heart." Rosie has yet to succumb to the addictions, pregnancies, suicide attempts and car crashes so common among the "good kids" in this California coastal community, but she has frequently been caught in lies and may even have trouble facing the truth about herself. She remains a source of tension between Elizabeth and James, Rosie's stepfather, who favors more of a tough-love approach than the unconditional love Elizabeth is more likely to bestow. Yet Rosie's deceptions threaten Elizabeth's sobriety, while the weakness of Rosie's mother and the death of her father have left Rosie with an emptiness to fill. Lamott alternates between the perspectives of Elizabeth and Rosie, and both ring true. As Elizabeth realizes, "Rosie had a secret life now, was putting together her own tribe, finding her identity there, and it was great to see, and it hurt like hell." If only the novel had been able to avoid proclamations such as, "Your whole selfish generation has helped kill this planet!" and facile reflections such as, "it's good to notice that my life is pretty great, even if my mind isn't."We're all imperfect birds, in anovel that sounds a warning note to parents of "good kids," even though some might resist its climactic remedy. In the end, the strengths of central characters and believable complications overcome a tendency toward oracular psychobabble.
Her new novel, Imperfect Birds (Riverhead; 278 pages), functions in reverse, suggesting all the terror of the big picture. It's about Elizabeth and James, liberal do-gooders from Marin County, California (and the subjects of her previous novels Rosie and Crooked Little Heart), and their daughter Rosie. At 17, Rosie is "black-haired, strapping and fabulous" and an academic high achiever, but she does every drug under the sun, including her peers' parentally dispensed Adderall. The book is a stark illustration of deception, denial and parents' desperate desire to stay loved. You emerge from its last bittersweet pages ready to drug-test your Little Leaguer, if that's what it will take to keep him safe. That's extreme, obviously, but Lamott, though a fierce advocate of civil rights and social justice, wouldn't rule it out for teens who seem at risk.
—Mary Pols
From the Publisher
"Heartbreaking and delightful, moving and hopeful, Imperfect Birds reminds us how our children are connected to and independent of us, and that no matter how difficult our struggle is with them, love underlies it all and saves us. This novel captures the deepest, purest, most terrifying experience of parents fearing for their children. With great insight and humor, Anne Lamott shows us what it means these dangerous days to be a parent, what it means to be a child, and what it means to be a family."
-David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy

"This is a hell of a book, tough and wonderful. A heartbreak and a heart- mender."
-Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park and The Golden Mile

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101186343
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/6/2010
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 294,495
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Help, Thanks, Wow; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; and Operating Instructions, as well as several novels, including Imperfect Birds, Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in northern California.

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    1. Hometown:
      Fairfax, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write

Reading Group Guide


A powerful and redemptive novel of love and family, from the bestselling and beloved Anne Lamott.

Rosie Ferguson is seventeen and ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She’s smart, athletic, and beautiful—everything her mother, Elizabeth, and stepfather, James, hoped she could be.

But as the school year draws to a close, there are disturbing signs that the well-adjusted teenage life Rosie claims to be leading is a sham, and that Elizabeth’s hopes for her daughter to remain immune from the world’s darker impulses are dashed. Slowly and

painfully, Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the fact that Rosie has been lying to them—and that her deceptions have profound consequences on them all.

Imperfect Birds is Anne Lamott’s most honest and heartrending novel, exploring our human quest for connection and salvation as it exposes the traps that life can set for all of us.

“Anne Lamott is a cause for celebration. . . .She is nothing short of miraculous.”

The New Yorker

“A wonderful writer.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“There’s no one quite like Anne Lamott.”

Los Angeles Times

“Lamott knows the power of a place. We know where we’re going when we open her books, and that alone is a substantial literary pleasure.”

The New York Times Book Review


Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually), Plan B, Traveling Mercies, and Operating Instructions, as well as seven novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she lives in Northern California.


Q. This is the third time you’ve written about Elizabeth and Rosie, the fictional mother and daughter at the center of your new novel. Why did you feel moved to return to them now?

These are my favorite characters, Rosie and Elizabeth, Rae, James. I wanted to check back in with them four years later in their lives (though much later in real time) and see how Rosie and Elizabeth were doing as they both neared the moment when she turns 18 years old and is ready to go out on her own. I wanted to see how Elizabeth and James were doing, both in their marriage and with the added strain of living with a teenager who is testing limits. I wanted to see if Elizabeth had been able to stay sober and how Rosie’s new independence and challenging behavior were impacting Elizabeth’s best efforts at sobriety.

Q. What would you say are the major themes of this novel?

To me, there are three major themes:

First, this novel is about how incredibly hard it is to know and communicate the truth. The great Donald Barthelme said that truth is a hard apple to catch or to throw, and I wanted to explore how deeply into the frightening truth a newly sober Elizabeth was willing and able to go.

Second, I wanted to know whether Elizabeth’s desire to get along with Rosie preclude that she keep the evolving truth from her beloved husband, James? Or could she find a way to be loyal to Rosie and the truth?

Third, is Rosie really willing to risk her life in pursuit of the thrilling lie? Is there a path toward independence that doesn’t embrace self-destruction or the machete?

Q. How does Rosie, who’s an excellent student and athlete and basically a good kid, get involved with drugs?

Lots of kids who are great students and athletes are involved in drugs—we, as a town and a county, have lost so many kids to Ecstasy and Oxycontin, marijuana and alcohol—and it is often the high school stars whom we lose, or almost do. I think there are many factors that have an impact on kids—wealth, societal and peer pressure, just the realities of growing up in dangerous times with atomically strong marijuana and recreational drugs so easily available, parents who are so busy and stressed that they don’t notice their child is experimenting or in trouble.

Q. Why is Elizabeth so unwilling to acknowledge the full extent of Rosie’s drug abuse, even though the lies accumulate one by one in a steady drip?

Denial is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Elizabeth loves and admires Rosie so deeply, and Rosie is such an accomplished student and great liar. Elizabeth, who has struggled so mightily with her own issues over the years, so desperately wants Rosie to love and like her that she rationalizes Rosie’s behavior, turns a blind eye, does what she can, and hopes for the best.

Q. Elizabeth has her own problems with alcohol and depression. How does this affect her ability to deal with Rosie’s drug abuse, both negatively and positively?

Well, she knows what liars alcoholics are, because she is one—and she lied so routinely to James and Rosie. And she grew up with alcoholic parents, so she realizes that her tendency is to not see what is right before her very eyes—that the people she loves are going down the tubes. Children of alcoholics subconsciously agree not to see what is happening, and Elizabeth knows that this makes it doubly hard for her to tell what is really going on with Rosie.

Q. As the novel’s narrator, you alternate between Elizabeth’s point of view and Rosie’s, and you’re very sympathetic to teenage angst and rebellion, as well as a mother’s concerns. To what extent do you identify with both of these characters?

I totally identify with both of them, and I love them equally, and ache for both of them, and sometimes want to slap them both and say, Wake up!

Q. Rosie’s lies eventually lead to Elizabeth keeping secrets from her husband, James, which threatens their relationship. Is this common in the families of druggy teenagers?

Many parents I know have sacrificed their marriages to sustain their addictive need for their child to love them. People let their marriages disintegrate rather than face the facts about how their children are falling away from them.

Q. In what other ways is the teenage drug abuser’s illness also a family illness?

In every way. It’s the classic problem of the elephant in the living room that no one talks about. It’s impossible to get around it, yet families live their lives trying to stay one step ahead of all that elephant poop on the floors.

Q. Is Elizabeth in some way addicted to Rosie? Is that part of the reason it’s so difficult for her to lay down the law?

Yes, absolutely. Parents are so addicted to the love of their children. You just cannot bear the thought that you are making your children unhappy with all your rules and consequences. It’s intolerable when they hate you. To avoid that, parents will make almost any compromise—and live in total denial—to keep their children’s love. For your child to suddenly hug you or smile at you or want to be with you, when you’ve been going through a difficult patch, gives you a new lease on life. It literally is like morphine or cocaine—it feels like heaven. It’s awful.

Q. Elizabeth’s husband and Rosie’s stepfather, James, is a dedicated writer who spends hours trying to get a piece just right, and his family life suffers to some degree as a result. Is this a particular hazard of the writer’s life, or is it common to all parents and spouses with demanding jobs? Is it ever possible to find the perfect balance between work and family? Have you ever been able to achieve it in your own life? Do you agree with Rosie’s assessment that James will ultimately value his family relationships more highly than his success as a writer?

I think James is a great husband and father, but like all good writers, he has a wounded ego and narcissism. I think he does an amazing job loving Elizabeth and Rosie; he’s my favorite male character that I’ve ever worked with.

Q. Do you, like James, borrow things that your family and friends say for your books?

Oh my god, of course. Every writer is a parrot and a thief. I use everything great that everyone says. I am shameless and constantly paying attention, as are all of my favorite writers.

Q. You’ve written in some of your nonfiction about your relationship with your son, Sam, most notably in your bestselling book Operating Instructions. You’ve also written about your own experience with addiction and recovery. Is Imperfect Birds in any sense autobiographical, about Sam or about you?

No, it’s not autobiographical in the sense that you mean. I definitely relied on my own teenage experiences with drugs and alcohol to try to understand where Rosie was, although course I was a teenager in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, so the specific drugs were different. But the experiences I’ve had with many different young people over the years helped me to see the truth in Elizabeth’s and Rosie’s lives. I interviewed a number of teenage girls, all of whom were highly successful students and athletes, all of whom got seriously into trouble with drugs and alcohol, and in some cases, needed to be sent to rehab.

Sam is now an extraordinarily loving and successful young man, but boy oh boy, there were bad patches. He was invaluable to the writing of this book, in his ability to express how exasperating and suffocating my anxieties were, and my efforts to control his behavior.

Q. On a national level, how widespread is drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers? How much of it is truly serious?

It’s a devastating problem in all parts of the country. Huge. Just look at all the kids and grown children of our most famous actors, musicians, writers, politicians, who had the greatest opportunities and in many cases, role models, who still succumbed to the endless temptation to mood-alter, to feel more powerful, to feel less shame or anxiety through chemical means. Innumerable children lost to overdose, suicide, institutionalization, car accidents, countless lives destroyed at every single layer of society. Or, by the same token, just look at all the people in your extended family, whose kids have gotten caught up in drugs, alcohol, gangs—everyone knows many families with lost kids.

Q. In your own experience, how widespread are teenage drug and alcohol problems among the children of your neighbors and friends in the San Francisco Bay area?


Q. What are the best places for the parents of teenagers with drug and alcohol problems to turn for help? What are the first steps to take?

I am certainly not an expert, but every region of the country has therapists and psychiatrists who specialize in families with addicted children (or parents). Every area has therapeutic groups for teenagers at risk, involving group therapy, family therapy, one on one—it takes a huge amount of effort and help to break through the barrier of denial, and angry sullen resistant teenagers. My experience is that it takes a community to save or protect a child or teenager—parents who are going through the same thing, or have come through; it takes a lot of truth telling, faith, unbelievable stamina, lots of failure and mistakes and starting over; and in many cases, it takes expert help and maybe 12-step programs.

Q. From a generally liberal parent’s point of view, how do you help teenagers grow up and become independent and yet set appropriate boundaries for them?

I needed a lot of help—the guidance of parents whose kids had been exposed or involved with typical scary teenage behavior, who could help me set boundaries, rein my child in even though it meant he would be furious with me; and who totally convinced me that the secret to healthy child-rearing is massive love, strict boundaries, and consequences, consequences, consequences.

Q. One of the fundamental questions that Elizabeth wrestles with is whether there is such a thing as evil, aside from the depravity of human beings. What do you think?

I do believe in evil, in the same way that Rae does, who basically shares the same spiritual beliefs as me—that there is a force of great goodness and divine Love and Mind, and that there are also forces of almost supernatural malevolence, which is how I feel about the drug cartels and drug dealers that prey on the vulnerable and innocent, for profit.

Q. In your nonfiction, you have written a great deal about your struggles with the challenges of religious faith, but you always remain firmly rooted in your identity as a person of faith. But Elizabeth does not believe in God, although her best friend does. Why did you choose to make Elizabeth an agnostic? Would Elizabeth’s difficulties with Rosie have been any easier if she were religious?

I don’t know how to explain this except that I just came to know that Elizabeth does not really believe in God. She believes in caring and compassion, in a generous spirit as the source of our fullness and joy. She believes in an ecumenical life-spirit of sweetness and loyalty and truth—but not in a God, or godhead, or anything official like that. However, the tiny speck of Something that she connects to in the miserable sweat lodge is amazing to me, so touching and unexpected—a vague and skeptical sense of a higher power.

Q. What’s going to happen to Rosie? Is there any way for you or anyone else to know?

I have no idea, although we see her come a very great distance, and we see her strong, fierce, tender nature; and we know that she is deeply loved by adults and peers who are all also trying to heal psychologically and spiritually. So maybe with all that going for her, we have reason to believe she will forge ahead through life’s hardships with courage and passion and her sense of humor, to whatever awaits her.


  1. How do you interpret the opening sentence of the book, “There are so many evils that pull on our children?”
  2. In the opening pages of the novel, Elizabeth is aware of the questionable behavior of the teenagers in Landsdale, “Rosie was apparently not nearly as awful as many of the town’s teenage girls, not by a long shot.” She sees the kids in the Parkade, she knows about the abortions the high school girls have had. How does her knowledge of what goes in on in Landsdale affect Elizabeth’s behavior?
  3. Elizabeth says that living with a teenager is like “having a low grade bladder infection. It hurts, but you had to tough it out.” Do you agree? Why or why not? Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Did you think your parents were totally “loked” the way that Rosie thinks of James and Elizabeth? Why or why not?
  4. Are Elizabeth and James good parents? Why or why not?
  5. Why did Robert Tobias ask Rosie to give him tennis lessons? Do you think even his asking was inappropriate? That it gave Rosie the wrong idea? Why or why not? Where, if at all, did Mr. Tobias cross the line with Rosie? How have the lines between teacher and student changed since you were in school? Or haven’t they?
  6. When Elizabeth first found the Valiums in Rosie’s jeans, her “stomach dropped” and she told herself there was a reasonable explanation and confronted Rosie. Do you think Elizabeth was right to trust Rosie’s explanation, even though she knew what other kids in the town were doing in their spare time? As the novel progresses, Elizabeth often chooses to trust Rosie over her own instincts. How could Elizabeth have acted differently? How much or how little do you think parents should trust their children?
  7. In many of her books like Grace Eventually and Plan B, Anne Lamott gives us an irreverent, but positive look at the role of faith and religion in her life. Elizabeth uses faith as a way to cope with her alcoholism, Rosie’s behavior and her own actions. What do you think Anne is trying to say about faith in this book?
  8. What do you think Rosie is getting out of her experimentation with drugs and alcohol? What of her relationship with Fenn? Why do you think Elizabeth and James trust Fenn?
  9. Do you think the rules James and Elizabeth set up after Rosie was arrested were fair? What would you have done differently? Do you think there was a way for Elizabeth and James to discover all that Rosie was keeping from them?
  10. Elizabeth is obsessed with Rosie being open and honest with her and she’s terrified of them growing apart. When does this change? And why? When does Elizabeth decide she must let go?
  11. What do you think will happen to James, Rosie, and Elizabeth after Rosie comes back home from the wilderness program?
  12. Do you think it was the right decision to send Rosie to the wilderness program in Utah? How do you think it has changed her? Will it make the lasting impression that Rosie needs to change her behavior for good?
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 57 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    intelligent psychological family drama

    Entering her high school senior year, seventeen year old Rosie Ferguson is a high achieving teen. Rosie is beautiful, an A student and a good athlete. Her mother Elizabeth is proud of her daughter.

    Elizabeth feared the move to Lansdale in Marin County, but she, her husband James, and her daughter apparently adjusted rather easily though she prays Rosie stays away from the youth drug culture as she knows she herself uses alcohol to numb emotional excess. She and James vigilantly watch Rosie for signs of abuse and use as the square sells everything. However, in spite of their vigil, they fail to notice her daughter's mendacity until it is almost too late. Risking their marriage, James and Elizabeth intervene while Rosie objects.

    Rosie and Elizabeth return (see Rosie) in this profound gut wrenching family drama. The story line captures teen behavior with a strong need to ignore parental authority while also demanding privacy and the typical subsequent parental reaction. The lead trio is an awesome combination of love, defiance, and anger as Anne Lamott provides an intelligent psychological family drama.

    Harriet Klausner

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Imperfect Birds is an imperfect book

    Imperfect Birds is an imperfect book, but that's okay. I forgive Anne Lamott just about anything, since I'm nuts about her and I know she pours her guts, heart and soul into her writing. Because of that, though, this work of fiction sometimes gets a little crazy and overwrought.

    The story is about 17-year-old Rosie spiraling out of control, and the parents who are clueless then horrified, careless then vigilant, and rarely on the same proverbial page.

    Even though Rosie is not very likeable, my heart breaks for her as I put myself in her shoes. back in high school, struggling to fit in, secret and inappropriate crushes, getting into trouble with my friends, pushing the limits. At that age so many of us are striving for independence and individuality while, paradoxically, we're mortified if we don't fit in. Rosie thinks she's so smart and so grown up when she's really just a dumb, spoiled kid.

    As the mother of my own 17-year-old daughter, I feel this mother's angst, understand her denial, but sometimes want to shake her and tell her to wake up. I do empathize with her because there certainly are times when I find myself unprepared and in despair as a parent. That said, Elizabeth, the mother in the book is way too worried about rocking the boat with her teenage daughter and way too concerned about being her friend. Thank goodness she has healthy grownup friends and a husband who is slightly wiser and stricter than she is to support her before she goes down the tubes and takes Rosie with her.

    Anne Lamott's strongest and most successful books are her memoirs (Operating Instructions, Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Grace Eventually), filled with brutal honesty and a candid sharing of her spiritual journey. Those who've read them feel they know Annie and her son, Sam. In Imperfect Birds, Lamott strives to weave in a spiritual plot through Elizabeth's friend Rae (a weaver!) and her involvement in a community church, but that piece of the story seems contrived. Rosie gets a summer job there. The church is on the scene with candlelight vigils after tragedies. The wise pastor is there with sage advice for Elizabeth. It just didn't ring true to me.

    The point in the book is that we are all imperfect but allow each other, character flaws and all, into our the sacred spaces of our hearts. I love the metaphor. I just wish I liked these people a little more. They are the 12-step textbook example of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. That's one of the things that makes the book a little crazy but it's also one of the things that ultimately makes it work as a cautionary tale. And it is that-a big, red, blaring warning for families and entire communities as our youth continue to medicate themselves into oblivion to escape the reality of their lives.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds

    Frankly, this is an imperfect book! I've been an Anne Lamott fan since book one, but this entry is so full of depression and drugs that it made my teeth hurt. I'm eternally cheery and optimistic, but this book made me want to run off to the store for a strong anti-depressant. Not her, in all honesty, this is her worst. A waste of paper to print it and time to read it... unless you happen to be into angst and woe. I'm not!

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Hopeful and real

    Anne Lamott always writes from her heart - we meet Rosie again, from "Crooked Little Heart" some 5 years later. Rosie is a mess and doesn't know it and neither does Rosie's mother. Step-father James tries to get everyone to see the light but it takes a while. It is a tale of mother's love (for good and bad) and making the hard choice to do the right thing for ones child - even if it means they hate you for it. Parents may find this book to be too real about how teenagers behave, but the characters also seem very real and alive. I cared about the characters in this book and enjoyed the reading and the ultimate outcome. As with most of Anne Lamott's books, I'm always sad when I get to the last page and there's no more book. If only she were a more prolific writer! But perhaps she crafts a masterpiece each time and that's the point.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Wishing They Would Fly Away

    This book is a great argument for birth control. It's also a great argument for parenthood, so take your poison. The tedious life of a teenager who goes astray and the aching agony it leaves to the parents and those who care is painted in minute detail. We do feel their pain. Is there hope for a child so caught up in drugs and lying that they can do little else? The author makes no bones about how many "programs" fail. She does not tell us the outcome of the story here, but does show us that it is somehow, somewhere possible to right this horrible wrong. But what a rough road.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2014


    Ok, I tried ln this one. I really did and I made it to page 29. How much did I pay for it? Forget it. This book is boring . And come on....the mom is thinking about all thier friend's physical ailments and bei g 50? Give me a break. Reading her daughters journal.... mom needs some parenting classes. Can't bring myself to finish this mess of a book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2013

    Love Anne Lamott's memoirs but hated this novel. Quit halfway th

    Love Anne Lamott's memoirs but hated this novel. Quit halfway through and I rarely do that. Didn't care how it came out. Way too much trite detail and way too much about which sex acts were being performed br which teen. I really cannot believe this was written by the same author. Didn't like the story which dragged on, and didn't like the writing at all either. Such a disappointment after her other work.

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  • Posted February 27, 2013

    Could have been a much better book.

    This had all the ingredients to be a very touching book, but I struggled and struggled to finish the book. It was so slow and If I can say this about a book it had too many unnecessary details. This was my first book from the author so I am not sure if this is her style of writing, but I can't say I was a fan of it. The mother in the book was probably one of the worst characters I have ever met. As I stated all the ingredients to be a great book, but it just wasn't executed well.

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  • Posted April 25, 2012

    Highly recommended!

    A must to read - especially for parents who travel a difficult journey in life with their children who struggle with drug/alcohol addictions. I couldn't put the book down until it was done - great book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    Scary Truths

    This book absolutly opened my eyes. I felt as if Rosie were my own daughter. I THINK SOMETIMES we cannot see the faults of those closest to us and wish to believe that person is always truthful. I LOVED THE BOOK AND AGREE the drug culture amoung our teens and young adults is something we should all be aware of.

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  • Posted April 30, 2010


    This was a great book with interesting characters. It was extremely well written and held my attention to the end. I think parents of teenagers could learn a great deal from it. This is the second Anne Lamott book I've read, and she is one of those rare, fabulous writers.

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