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The Merit Birds
     

The Merit Birds

4.5 2
by Kelley Powell
 

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2015 Dewey Divas Pick

2016 Booklist Top Ten Multicultural Fiction List, Youth Spotlight

Cam is finally settling into his new life in Laos when tragedy strikes and he’s wrongfully accused of murder.

Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He’s angry about his absent dad, he’s angry about being angry, and he’s angry

Overview

2015 Dewey Divas Pick

2016 Booklist Top Ten Multicultural Fiction List, Youth Spotlight

Cam is finally settling into his new life in Laos when tragedy strikes and he’s wrongfully accused of murder.

Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He’s angry about his absent dad, he’s angry about being angry, and he’s angry that he has had to give up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Vientiane, Laos. However, Cam’s anger begins to melt under the Southeast Asian sun as he finds friendship with his neighbour, Somchai, and gradually falls in love with Nok, who teaches him about building merit, or karma, by doing good deeds, such as purchasing caged “merit birds.”

Tragedy strikes and Cam finds himself falsely accused of a crime. His freedom depends on a person he’s never met. A person who knows that the only way to restore his merit is to confess. The Merit Birds blends action, suspense, and humour in a far-off land where things seem so different, yet deep down are so much the same.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/27/2015
First-time author Powell traces a Canadian teenager's reluctant trip to Laos, alternating among his perspective and those of two Laotian teenagers. With a bad temper and worse attitude, Cam sulks amid the unfamiliar customs of the village he and his mother will be calling home for his senior year. His attitude softens as he gets to know a smart, kind girl named Nok, a practitioner of traditional fa ngum massage. Nok and her older brother, Seng, have been scraping by ever since their parents were taken away for political re-education and their older sister left for North America. The novel's initially low stakes spike after a series of events lands Cam in prison, facing manslaughter charges. There are some pacing and plotting oddities (within 30 pages, all three POV characters are knocked unconscious in separate incidents), and the more sensitive moments in Cam's narration can sound out-of-character ("In a culture as fluid and open-hearted as this, anything was possible"). Even so, the story offers an insightful window in Laotian life, history, and traditions while reminding readers that redemption can carry a heavy cost. Ages 12–15. (May)
United Church Observer
… Kelley Powell writes with sensitivity about culture, poverty and goodness in her debut novel.
Quill & Quire
By moving away from the multicultural clichés and tropes one has come to expect from YA stranger-in-a-strange-land stories, Powell creates something unique — a story rooted in characters that are realistically, if unpleasantly, depicted.
Canadian Materials magazine
Drawing on her own experience, Powell has set the story of 18-year-old Cameron in the exotic world of Vientiane, Laos. Her deep, almost native knowledge of Lao culture (Powell states in a "Dear Reader" note that she lived and worked in Laos) makes for a very authentic setting and genuine local characters.
Resource Links
The story is artfully told … rich in details of life in Laos and Thailand.
Canadian Materials
Drawing on her own experience, Powell has set the story of 18-year-old Cameron in the exotic world of Vientiane, Laos. Her deep, almost native knowledge of Lao culture (Powell states in a ‘Dear Reader’ note that she lived and worked in Laos) makes for a very authentic setting and genuine local characters.
Booklist
(Starred Review) A fresh, gripping page-turner that takes readers on a journey through one young man’s escape from anger into a place of peace.
Quill and Quire
By moving away from the multicultural clichés and tropes one has come to expect from YA stranger-in-a-strange-land stories, Powell creates something unique — a story rooted in characters that are realistically, if unpleasantly, depicted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781459729315
Publisher:
Dundurn Press
Publication date:
05/26/2015
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
1,350,283
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Kelley Powell has worked at a home for impoverished women and children in India, researched domestic violence in Laos, and served in the Canadian government’s family violence prevention unit. She lives in Ottawa.

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The Merit Birds 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
DonnaSchlachter More than 1 year ago
This was a delightful read and a carefully crafted story. Laos came alive for me, and the characters were three-dimensional and unique. Cam's angst-stricken teen years rang true, as did his self-absorbed mother's transition from business woman and world traveler to a mother who would note be denied. The ending was satisfying; in fact, it was the only ending that would be true to the story and true to life as well. Sacrifice, love, honor, duty -- sometimes we forget these elemental truths. The concept of actual merit birds was briefly touched on, but the emotional and spiritual application rang true in the way the characters changed through the story. Only caution: there is some strong language, but nothing over the top. An intelligent summer read. I look forward to more from this author.
DubaiReader1 More than 1 year ago
The good and bad of Laos. This novel was a fascinating mix of cultures, with Cameron (Cam), a teenage Canadian boy, finding himself whisked away from everything he knew and felt comfortable with, into a new and alien country. Laos gets into his bones in a way he had never expected. The Buddhist religion permeates the Laos way of thinking and behaving, and eventually calms Cameron from the angry person who originally arrived from Canada. However, a lot happens to get Cam to this point and some interesting characters are involved. Some of these I liked, some less so. Cam's mother is one of the less likable characters, she is self absorbed and career minded, dragging her son behind her. Their new neighbour, Somchai, however, is the embodiment of the Buddhist way of thinking and he teaches Cam a lot about forgiveness and caring for others. Nok is the 'love interest'. As a masseuse, she meets some pretty nasty people, and struggles to reconcile her desire to study with the need to earn money for herself and her brother, Seng. I wasn't keen on Seng, a big fat man who behaves childishly a lot of the time. He scrapes a living selling plastic rubbish from his bike and dreams of a future in America, Finally there is Sai, who Cam meets later in the book, after things all start to go wrong. Sai is a Buddhist monk and is the final piece in the chain of transforming Cam from his materialistic, selfish mind-set into an enlightened young man with his life ahead of him. I loved the descriptions of Laos and its culture, and the transformation that Cam goes through as a result of his stay there. The Merit Birds of the title, are caged birds, bought to be released, to increase your karma, but all your good deeds count towards this end too. Events do spiral out of control in a pretty drastic manner and I found the ending rather abrupt, but this was an excellent debut and is certainly an author I shall follow in the future.I think I have fallen in love with the Laos culture, it's now high on the list of countries I'd like to visit.