After bouncing from one foster residence to the next for three years, December, 11, dreams about reuniting with her mother and also about transforming into a bird, wings bursting from the scars on her back. Her current foster mom, Eleanor, works with birds as an animal rehabilitator and a taxidermist, which fascinates and disquiets December in equal measure. As December helps Eleanor rehabilitate a red-tailed hawk and finds a new friend in her classmate Cheryllynn (whose gender fluidity is mocked and rejected by their classmates), she cautiously begins to honestly acknowledge her past while contemplating what “belonging to a place” might mean. Stark-McGinnis nimbly constructs poignant relationships born of reciprocal patience, trust, and understanding, and December’s connections with Eleanor, Cheryllynn, and the red-tailed hawk feel authentic and earned. The physical and emotional trauma December experiences before entering foster care is alluded to with care, effectively depicted through the lens of December’s belief that she is a bird, fleeting memories, and sensory impressions. This sensitive debut is a sincere and hopeful exploration of family, history, and belonging from a promising new voice. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)
A beautiful story filled with heart.” Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7s and coauthor of To Night Owl from Dogfish.
“An amazing debut filled with heart, lyrical prose, and a heroine who soars!” Jewell Parker Rhodes, New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Boys
“A heartbreaking and hopeful story about a young girl who learns the power of kindness and the beauty of belonging.” School Library Journal, starred review
“Poignant…this heartbreaking but ultimately redemptive middle grade novel shows the beauty of accepting one's true self and finding a place to belong.” Foreword Reviews, starred review
“Stark-McGinnis' prose is carefully crafted, direct, and convincing… appealingly hopeful.” Kirkus Reviews
“This ably constructed first-person narrative is meant to tug at the heartstrings and it surely does, encouraging readers to hope for a happy ending to this affecting story.”” Booklist
“Stark-McGinnis adds a vivid artistic flourish with the avian theme [and] writes with smooth sympathy… This is a gracefully written modern take on the orphan story.” BCCB
“This soulful story will wing its way straight into your heart.” Jess Keating, zoologist and author of the My Life is a Zoo series
“Such a tender story. You'll root for this bird-loving girl to soar.” Sally Pla, award-winning author of The Someday Birds
“An emotional tale about finding one's home and facing one's truth...An extraordinary debut!” Ellie Terry, author of Forget Me Not
Gr 4–6—Eleven-year-old December not only knows everything about birds, she's convinced she is one. As December, whose mother left her as a young child, moves between a series of foster homes, she's waiting for the moment when her "wings will finally unfold" and she is strong enough to take flight. But when she arrives at her newest foster home and meets Eleanor, things begin to change. Eleanor has bird feeders and volunteers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. She is also patient and kind, giving December the space and time she needs to build trust. Among her many acts of gentle support, Eleanor introduces December to Henrietta, a red-tailed hawk who, like December, is recovering from trauma and needs encouragement to fly. Despite her reluctance to hope for a real home, December finds herself wondering if living with Eleanor could be permanent. Of course, that would mean abandoning her dream of flight and December wrestles between her pull skyward and the emotional and tangible comforts of life on the ground. At school, she befriends a trans girl named Cheryllynn. When a group of girls December refers to as "the Vultures" cruelly mock Cheryllynn, December stands by her new friend who is, like December, experiencing transformation. Throughout it all, December holds on tight to the one gift she has from her mother, a book called The Complete Guide to Birds Vol. 1, but painful memories of her mother slowly emerge, allowing December to embrace her rich new life. VERDICT A heartbreaking and hopeful story about a young girl who learns the power of kindness and the beauty of belonging.—Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA
In her personal mythology she is a bird, but December begins to trust some of the humans around her.
Narrator December Lee Morgan is almost 12, solitary and a survivor, when she arrives at her latest foster home. The scars on her back—the result of an injury inflicted years ago by her mother, never fully detailed—become the place where December believes her wings will emerge when they are ready. Her new foster parent is a single woman, Eleanor, who builds houses and volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation center. December carries two books with her everywhere: The Complete Guide to Birds, Volume One, and Bird Girl: An Extraordinary Tale. The first she has nearly memorized, and the second is her biography, a reminder to herself that she is really a bird and that her wings will open when she finds and leaps from the perfect flight tree. But Eleanor offers December something new: a respectful regard, perhaps from her understanding of wild animals. And December's new schoolmate Cheryllyn is supportive and endlessly kind though herself bullied by girls who refuse to use her chosen name and refer to her by her former pronouns. December and Eleanor present white, and Cheryllyn, has skin "the color of paperbark maple." Bird imagery and facts provide a subtle and graceful constant, and Stark-McGinnis' prose is carefully crafted, direct, and convincing.
Mostly perceptive and appealingly hopeful. (Fiction. 9-13)