"Do you have any friends?" Latin professor Simon Mellinkoff asks 18-year-old Margie Fitzgerald in Brown's debut novel, to which Margie knowingly demurs. Describing herself as shy and "Always Alone," Margie has never known her mother who died in childbirth, was not close to her father, and is distanced from her classmates. But she soon falls in love with Simon and Margie begins to follow him in his advocacy for animal rights. When he introduces her to Operation H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Encouraging Animal Rights Today), Margie feels she's finally found a place where she belongs. After an incident which results in the FBI labeling her as a threat, Margie is forced to go into hiding. She is sent to live on the prairies of Montana in a Native American Reservation with the Crow tribe, and she must leave behind the only people she could now call friends. Although Margie's personality comes off as timid and indecisive, Brown is able to get readers empathizing with her during bouts of loneliness as well as caught up in her passion for what she believes is the right thing to do. Agent: Terra Chalberg, Chalberg & Sussman. (June)
“The Lovebird is a compassionate and inviting novel about loneliness and heartbreak, finding a place to belong, and what we will do to protect the things we love. Brown evokes great emotion with her small and perfect details. The image of the lovebird—confused and lost—touched me to the core, and stayed with me long after I shut the book.”
—Jennifer Close, bestselling author of Girls in White Dresses
“Making you feel for . . . characters and care about what happens to them—these are signs of real talent. Natalie Brown is a real talent.”
"Natalie Brown has written a sly and quietly funny novel of a young woman’s coming of age. Her unusual heroine, Margie Fitzgerald, is a passionate innocent, a dreamer blessed with loopy confidence, charming directness, and a very American logic all her own."
—Honor Moore, author of The Bishop’s Daughter
“In vibrant, colorful language that leaps off the page, Brown paints her winsome heroine’s coming-of-age with compassion and affection in this lush, compelling tale.”
“The Lovebird asks us what it means to love, to belong, to believe. It's a book about new vision, second chances, and one young woman's desire to find her place among her human—and animal—kin.”
—Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men
Lonely, misdirected college freshman Margie Fitzgerald has a tenuous relationship with her depressed father, who never recovered from the loss of his wife, who died delivering Margie. It’s no wonder that Margie is besotted with the first male to pay attention to her: Latin professor Simon Melinkoff. The intriguing Simon invites ultrasensitive Margie to participate in an animal rights meeting he leads. Developing camaraderie and finding a place for herself with the group’s equally misfit members, Margie appears to have discovered an identity. When Simon discontinues their relationship, this motley crew’s leadership falls to Margie. Finding herself heading a dangerous, destructive, illegal plan, she flees her Southern California home and escapes to the wilds of Montana. Adrift and bereft, Margie seems on the path to self-discovery.
Verdict While well written, this debut novel includes many cloying, overly sentimental passages reminiscent of a young adult romance. The caring, compassionate Margie, who often comments on her broken heart and her left ovary’s twinges, is not an entirely believable heroine; the author’s florid language distracts from the story. While the second half of the novel becomes more inviting, the plot still begs for focus.Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA
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In Brown's first novel, an impressionable young woman drifts into animal rights terrorism, goes on the lam and reinvents herself with the help of noble Native Americans and true love. After her Lebanese-born mother dies in childbirth, Margie grows up under the gentle but distant care of her usually drunk father. A waiflike beauty, she is so sensitive that her left ovary aches when she is stressed. As a lonely college freshman, she falls in love with her Latin professor, Simon, a middle-aged widower with a motherless 7-year-old daughter. Simon introduces her both to sexual passion and to the animal rights movement through his organization H.E.A.R.T., which pulls off small illegal acts like freeing birds from their pet-store cages to protest for animal rights. Then Simon dumps Margie and quits H.E.A.R.T., suggesting to the group's typically quirky and diverse members that they put Margie in charge. For a girl who is always sighing about her shyness, Margie has no trouble dancing naked at a party or leading H.E.A.R.T. to burn down a restaurant that proudly serves exotic meat. No one is hurt, but afterward, an undercover policeman nabs Margie, not for arson, but for incendiary speech, when she gives an educational lecture on how to commit arson to prospective H.E.A.R.T. members. Before her trial date, H.E.A.R.T. member Bumble helps her flee to Montana, where she hides out with an Indian family whose matriarch, Granma, was friends with Bumble's mother back during the AIM uprisings in the 1960s. Now, Granma lives off the land with her granddaughter Cora, whose mother is in jail for drugs, and with Cora's dad, Jim, who works at a printing company. Soon enough, Granma and Jim have given Margie a new appreciation of nature and an understanding of the spiritual relationship that can exist between humans and the animals they hunt for food. Then Simon shows up and forces Margie to decide where she really belongs. Self-important pretensions don't deepen the shallow emotional waters in which these predictable characters swim. Brown is no Louise Erdrich.