Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: Summer and Bird

Summer and Bird
By Katherine Catmull
Expected publication October 2, 2012 by Dutton Juvenile

After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, sisters Summer and Bird embark on a quest to find them, never guessing to what lengths they will go and what challenges they will endure along the way. Between the simple discovery of Down - where they must go if they hope to reunite with their parents - to the evil Puppeteer, Summer and Bird will find themselves forever changed by what they find.

Digital galleys of this title were being offered to attendees of School Library Journal's SummerTeen celebration and, after reading the blurb, I thought I'd give it a shot. I find myself not entirely sure what to make of this book. First, I guess this was just my own oversight, but I did not expect it to be so much about birds. I knew one of the sisters was named Bird and birds are mentioned in the blurb, but I didn't realize how central to the entire story they were. In fact, this book is just as much about birds - all birds - as it is about the sisters and their personal quest. This presented a slight problem for me. I am terrified of birds - no, seriously. I will freak out if a bird flies within 100 feet of me. As a result, I'm not a huge fan of reading about them either (which is a shame as there are so many cute picture books with bird characters). Being a children's librarian, I occasionally have to suck it up and embrace the birds (not literally; I'd probably die). I'm not a huge fan of animal books either - you know the ones I mean. Redwall. Warriors. Even Geronimo Stilton. I have a hard time getting behind talking animal books (though I don't universally hate them all - Charlotte's Web and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH being two notable exceptions). While Summer and Bird, two human girls (more or less), are the central characters of this novel, the secondary cast is made up nearly completely of many different species of birds. These factors combine to make some hurdles this novel must jump over for me to enjoy.

Luckily for this book, it's got some big factors working in its favor. First, the gorgeous writing - Catmull is certainly a skilled scribe. The book feels lush and complete, with vivid imagery and descriptions to die for. Second, the characters - Summer and Bird will break your heart. They are so endearing and so raw and so real - they are never cloying or fake. Their little girl-ness will just get you, right at your core, until you can't help but feel broken for them because you completely understand how mixed-up and horrid they feel. Finally, the tone - this is not a soft gentle fantasy full of beautiful and loving magic. This book is quite often grim and grotesque, with horror and evil mixed in. This book reminded me a lot of Wildwood - and that's not a bad thing. I think this is a book with appeal across age levels - middle-grade readers will enjoy the adventure and easily relate to the main characters, teen readers will appreciate the world-building and the vibrant cast of characters, and adults will be impressed by the prose and the beautiful story it tells. This is a lovely, lovely debut novel.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy provided via NetGalley.

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