A profoundly moving and exquisitely written story of love, loss, grief, and healing. These characters have imprinted on my heart and will be with me for a long, long time.
A heart-wrenching journey through anger and grief, balanced on the sharp edge of hope.
Praise for The Meaning of Birds: “An evocative story of the thrills of first love and the anguish of first loss. This will break you and heal you.
An unforgettable story that resonated deep in my bones, The Meaning of Birds will break your heart and then put it right back together again. Jess and Vivi’s relationship was so beautiful and true. I loved them and didn’t want the story to end.”
Prepare to cry, often—and to be thoroughly swept away into this subtle and utterly real story of grief and love and heartbreak and finding yourself in the middle of it all.
Jess is a talented artist who has long used creating to cope with anger, but nothing has seemed worth doing since her girlfriend Vivi’s sudden death. Jess’s father died in Afghanistan when she was young, and the loss of Vivi brings back familiar waves of anger and helplessness, which she deals with by fighting, especially with jerks at her suburban North Carolina school who harass her about being gay. It lands her in an alternative school whose work experience component includes blacksmithing, and Jess, it turns out, is a natural. Hammering hot metal helps get the anger out, reawakens her artistic impulses, and gives her the impetus to apply to college. Jess’s close-knit friend group and delightful, bird-loving Vivi are affectionately rendered. Brown (Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit) depicts Jess with raw realism, making the early sections hard going: she seems hell-bent on alienating everyone but her patient family to ensure that if Vivi doesn’t have a future, she won’t, either. At the same time, the anger-soaked beginning enriches the payoff, when a grief group and blacksmithing start to help Jess find her way, not out of grief, but back into life. Ages 14–up. (Apr.)
Gr 9 Up—When her girlfriend Vivi dies unexpectedly from flu complications, Jess's life divides into a stark before and after. Before, Jess had love, art, and plans for her future. After, only grief and anger. When Jess is sent to an alternative school because of fights provoked by her classmates' homophobic comments, a vocational blacksmithing program offers her a chance to forge a new path during the last months of her senior year. But no choice is simple when healing and moving on feel like betraying the past. Brown's exploration of loss is raw and devastating, placing readers directly into Jess's turbulent experience through evocative present tense narration interspersed with vivid flashback chapters. The supporting characters are also complex and distinct, from Deuces, a friendly parolee at the alternative school, who openly dates a trans woman in his tough neighborhood, to Cheyanne, Jess's best friend, who struggles to navigate her aromantic identity while supporting her volatile friend. Brown captures the ambivalence of grief in this searing and ultimately hopeful novel. VERDICT Recommended for high school and public library collections, and for fans of Jandy Nelson, Adam Silvera, and Nicola Yoon.—Molly Saunders, Homewood Public Library, AL
A teen tries to pick up the pieces after devastating loss.
Jess Perez burns hot. Having the courage at a young age to come out to herself and others as "queer, overly sensitive, overly prone to fists," Jess anticipates the start of her sophomore year with some trepidation, having to negotiate what she perceives as a threatening environment without the aid of the therapist who'd been helping her process her military father's death in Afghanistan three years before. But the horizon suddenly brightens when Jess meets Vivi Bouchard—smart, curvy, confident, and gay; the two are instantly attracted and soon become girlfriends. Vivi encourages Jess to develop her copious talents as a visual artist and helps her manage her, at times, uncontrollable anger, seeing Jess how she wishes to be seen: "Interesting. Artistic. Something more than a middle-class, if that, suburban girl"—and they plan for their future at college together. Jess' world is rocked when Vivi unexpectedly dies, sending her spiraling into grief and rage as she rails against her new persona as "the queer girl with the dead girlfriend." Told in alternating "then" and "now" chapters, the moving narrative captures well the nonlinear progression of Jess' grief and emotional growth. The book follows a white default although there is diversity across several dimensions in secondary characters; Jess' father was half Mexican and (presumably) half white.
Frank and accessible, this gritty drama realizes with great compassion and empathy the ways reckoning with loss can manifest. (Fiction. 14-18)