By Esther Ehrlich
Expected publication September 9, 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books
Chirp loves birds - watching them brings her to a happy place. But even birdwatching is not enough of a distraction from the symptoms her mom is exhibiting. Chirp is starting to worry that something could be seriously wrong. What will become of her family?
Another in the long line of books I request in my attempts to read more middle-grade, this is Ehrlich's debut novel. It's set in 1972 on Cape Cod, and I think one of the novel's strengths is a real evocation of that time and place. It's clear that Chirp, our main character, feels a deep connection to the Cape and the life that inhabits it, and that really shines on the pages. Ehrlich's description of the setting and the wildlife is strong and made me crave a landscape of dune grass and shorebirds (and that's saying something, because I'm afraid of birds).
Ehrlich also does a grand job of creating a convincing narrator. Chirp is quite endearing, and it's hard not to love her. I absolutely loved the way Chirp relates to others - each relationship has a very distinct flavor and they're all very realistic. I think my favorite relationship was that of Chirp and Joey, two kids clearly in need of each other but at an age where they don't know what that should look like. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming to watch them struggle with each other and try to figure out what they wanted to be.
Where I struggle with this book is the emotions. Chirp's story is so sad and it makes it difficult for me to want to recommend this book. Yes, it does end on a hopeful note and the sadness is not without reason, providing valuable insight and lessons for young readers. But it starts sad and just gets sadder, with a particularly devastating development later in the book that just hurt my heart to read. So, while I think this book is very well-written, I'd want to be sure I knew the reader before recommending it.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.