Book Review: Bird

Bird-covertitle: Bird

author: Crystal Chan

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Release Date: January, 2014

main character: Jewell Campbell

12 year old Jewel is growing up in a house where people don’t talk to one another. They probably stopped when her grandfather caused her brother, John, to die. He nicknamed John ‘Bird’ and convinced him that he was in fact a bird. At the age of 5, Bird attempted to fly off a cliff. Grandfather never spoke again and her mother and father seemed to stop speaking about things that mattered.

Jewel was lost in this silence until John appeared. John, skin as dark as midnight, was sitting in her tree. But who was he, really?

Bird is rich in its Iowa setting. Jewel knows the ancient history of the land while John knows about space. Together, they climb trees and find arrowheads.

Bird is a story of mixed raced identity. John was adopted by a white family and struggles to find self-acceptance while Jewel is ½ Jamaican, ¼ White and ¼ Mexican. Her family mixes cultures, stories and magic and does not fit into this Iowa town. They don’t even fit into their own home. Chan writes not only about the superficial ways cultures blend, but she digs into the belief systems that deeply affect the ways people live together.

With identity as an overarching theme, readers want to know who this John really is. The name can’t just be a coincidence, can it? Jewel notices right away that something with John may not be as it seems and she asks on question too many.

The tension in the air suddenly grew so thick we didn’t need tree limbs to sit on anymore, we could have set on one of those words that just crawled out and got huge.

“Want to keep climbing?” I asked, scooching over to the trunk of the tree and standing up. “I can show you this squirrel’s nest.”

He looked at me, and his face shifted. Softened, no longer stone.

Jewel wants a friend. As she unravels her family’s truths, she also unravels John’s.

From Crystal’s bio page:

Crystal Chan grew up as a mixed-race kid in the middle of the Wisconsin cornfields and has been trying to find her place in the world ever since. Over time, she found that her heart lies in public IMG_7240-revised-241x300speaking, performing, and ultimately, writing. She has published articles in several magazines; given talks and workshops across the country; facilitated discussion groups at national conferences; and been a professional storyteller for children and adults alike. In Chicago, where Crystal now lives, you will find her biking along the city streets and talking to her pet turtle.

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