In Gringas's delicately told story, which won the Governor General's Literary Award when it was first published in French, 14-year-old loner Mira feels isolated living in her basement apartment with her suffocating, off-kilter mother ("I feel like I've got a leather collar around my neck and that, every once in a while, she gives a tug on the leash"). Narrating in spare first-person vignettes, Mira ponders her largely absent father, her developing body and her drawing talent. Generally friendless, she finds companionship with a new girl at school, Cath, who shares her passions, but that friendship is tested when Cath charms a young man they are both drawn to. And when Mira faces the sudden loss of her father in a plane accident, she temporarily focuses her misplaced desire on her art teacher. Although the use of bird symbolism (flight as freedom; broken wings as sadness) can be heavy-handed, the story's core appeal lies in its accessible and lyric portrayal of an uncommon girl who comes of age facing her burdens with grace. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"I'm almost fifteen and I have no friends." So begins the spare narrative of desperately lonely Mirabel, who lives in a half-basement apartment with her mentally ill mother, seeing her father only during sporadic, awkward visits. Suffocating under her mother's paranoid control, black-clad Mira hides in books and in her school's library, and at home, in her aspirations to someday become a wildlife writer and artist. In art class, she is recognized by her teacher, called "the birdman," as having rare talent, if only she would complete assignments. Everything changes when a gorgeous new girl transfers to Mira's school. Cath is different and confident, and she introduces Mira to a world of friendship, color, and experimentation with boys. Then, when Cath betrays her by seemingly "stealing" a boy, the friendship shatters and, with it, Mira's newfound happiness. Gingras's translated narrative is decidedly French in feel; dramatic, almost forcefully poetic; and crowded with symbolism: dying/stark vs. colorful trees; broken/caged vs. healed/free birds; Mira's long, braided hair cut short at the end to symbolize freedom from her mother's tyranny. Mira explores her burgeoning sexuality in part through a growing obsession with the birdman, who fights returning her feelings in a theatrical scene. Ultimately the teen sees a new school therapist, a blind woman who "sees" Mira and her problems and helps her to move forward. Although it may appeal to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (Farrar, 1999), the story is overdone, forced, and much too easily resolved.-Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA
Mira, alone in a basement apartment with a strange, controlling mother, has only her nature books and animal sketches, until she meets Cath and finds her first friend. Taut, first-person narration carries readers to this 15-year-old's deepest places of insecurity and isolation. Even with her bold, sassy new friend and inspirational school art classes, however, unhappiness still dogs Mira. Her mother compulsively knits and squirrels away thousands of garish sweaters; her benign father surfaces only now and again. Many teens will relate to Mira's tattered relationships with her parents, as well as her broiling resentment. Gingras divides chapters into short passages that provide needed pauses between Mira's distilled, distraught reflections. After her father's sudden death, a fallout with Cath and an unrealized crush on her art teacher, Mira comes undone. Some teens might find culminating conversations with a school counselor too outwardly melodramatic and expository, especially after spending so many pages covertly inside Mira's troubled mind. Stronger moments surface in the deft handling of nature imagery: a spindly maple, the thrilling rush of feathers, a solitary moose drinking from a childhood lake. (Fiction. YA)