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Imperfect Birds: A Novel
     

Imperfect Birds: A Novel

2.8 57
by Anne Lamott
 

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Look out for Anne's next book, Hallelujah Anyway, coming April 2017.

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

Overview

Look out for Anne's next book, Hallelujah Anyway, coming April 2017.

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

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?"

ALL GROWN UP

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.)
Booklist
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.
Time
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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101186343
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/06/2010
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
15,901
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

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

David Sheff
"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)

Meet the Author

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; StitchesSome Assembly RequiredGrace (Eventually)Plan BTraveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; Operating Instructions, and the forthcoming Hallelujah Anyway. She is also the author of several novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.


From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Fairfax, California
Date of Birth:
1954
Place of Birth:
San Francisco, California
Education:
Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write

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Imperfect Birds 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Mimsy811 More than 1 year ago
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.
donsdaughter More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 old.......at 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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Jai0411 More than 1 year ago
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.
RandiJo More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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. Annon
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