Bird’s engaging, heartfelt debut for middle-grade readers follows 13-year-old Clare Burch as she struggles to define herself and overcome her guilt and grief after the death of her beloved Grandpa Anthony. In his will, Anthony specified that he wanted his ashes scattered at wild, windswept Lake Alwyn in Wisconsin, but he also wanted Clare—along with her high-strung mother, Helen, and her spoiled, indoorsy Grandma Lulu—to live there in his rural cabin for two months. Everyone is upset about this for their own reasons: Helen will miss teaching summer art classes, Lulu will be in a different state from her hairdresser, and Clare won’t see her friends or compete in summer swim meets.
Despite their misgivings, the three generations of women make the trip north from Chicago. To help cope with her sadness, Clare sets three goals that she thinks would make her grandfather proud: she aims to make a new friend, swim to the island and back without a life jacket, and catch a musky with her fishing rod from Anthony. Watching Clare accomplish each of these tasks will be rewarding for young readers who are also trying to define themselves. As an added bonus, Clare’s mother and grandmother are funny, troubled, fleshed-out characters, which will encourage kids to take a compassionate look at the adults in their own lives
Clare is a warm, determined, and friendly character, in a way that is relatable and inspiring. Young teens will find her journey of self-discovery similar to what they and their friends are experiencing. “I’m changing into something that was there all along, I just didn’t know it,” she says. Ultimately this spirited book serves as a valuable reminder that the things we dread can be adventures in disguise, waiting to help us become better, truer versions of ourselves.
Takeaway: An engaging middle-grade read that follows a 13-year-old girl on a quest of self-discovery following the death of her grandfather.
Great for fans of: Marie Miranda Cruz’s Everlasting Nora, Amanda Rawson Hill’s The Three Rules of Everyday Magic.
Production grades Cover: B+ Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: B+
Gr 5–8—Clare, nearly 13 years old, struggles to cope with the recent death of her favorite person, grandpa Anthony. Clare blames herself for not reacting quickly enough when he had a heart attack in her presence, a burden she's been carrying around for months. Grandpa's dying wish was that Clare, her mother, and her grandmother spend an entire summer together at the family's cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin—a thinly veiled attempt to bring the three women closer together. As they shed the stresses of life in suburban Chicago and begin to relax and enjoy themselves ("crossing the pressure line," as Grandpa used to say), the three bond by finding common ground and unearthing sides of themselves not usually seen. Bird deposits readers right in the heart of the Northwoods, convincingly showing how Clare and her family can easily unwind in the picturesque setting, populated with down-to-earth people who enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. Clare is an extremely precocious narrator, and her inner-voice—as well as her dialogue—doesn't always sound realistic for a young teenager. But that is easy for readers to overcome, as Clare's optimism and enthusiasm for the people and world around her are infectious. All main characters are cued as white; secondary characters are Asian, African American, and Latina. VERDICT Recommended, especially for younger readers of middle-grade realistic fiction and fans of classic books like Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie.—Melissa Kazan
A young girl finds purpose in life after losing a loved one in Bird’s debut middle-grade novel.
Twelve-year-old Clare Burch has lived with her mother, Helen, and her maternal grandparents, Grandma Lulu and her beloved Grandpa Anthony, for most of her life. One New Year’s Eve, Grandpa Anthony collapses from a heart attack while making dinner. Clare is the only family member at home, so she calls the paramedics and stays with him until they get to the hospital. When he ultimately dies, Clare is devastated. In his will, Grandpa Anthony requested that Grandma Lulu, Helen, and Clare spend a summer together in the family cabin in Alwyn, Wisconsin, where Clare used to vacation with him and her mom. He also asked that they scatter his ashes in the lake there. Clare doesn’t want to leave her two best friends, Emmy and Olive, and her swim team—and she doesn’t want to leave Grandpa Anthony’s ashes in Wisconsin. He’s always been the person who held the family together, and she wonders what will happen now. But what starts as a trip full of uncertainty and apprehension for Clare, Helen, and Grandma Lulu ends up being a journey of self-discovery as they navigate their grief and reconnect with one another. For Clare, specifically, the voyage allows her to open up, make new friends, and enjoy life. Over the course of the novel, Bird craftily balances the family’s story with beautiful descriptions of Wisconsin landscapes while focusing on Clare’s emotions and realizations as she learns to believe in herself and to accept the loss of a loved one. The characters are relatable and sometimes quite funny, and Clare’s ruminations are thoughtful yet appropriate for a girl her age: “We’re each pointing in our very own direction,” she reflects toward the end of the novel while looking at what she, Grandma Lulu, and her mother have accomplished during their stay. Each manages to find the motivation she needs to keep going.
An evocative story about recovering from grief for readers of any age.