My enjoyment rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Source: Personal Copy
Genre: Juvenile/Middle Grade Fiction
Consider the following: an author proposes writing a middle grade novel involving John James Audubon’s Birds of America, an emotionally abusive father, a Vietnam veteran brother, the classic novel Jane Eyre, the New York Yankees, an eccentric playwright, a business executive who is both an expert at horseshoes as he is at cultivating orchids – you would probably consider him crazy and usher him out the door. But only author Gary Schmidt could weave all the above in a story so full of heartache and hope that the obvious response would be, “why didn’t I think of that story line?”
Doug Swieteck, a minor character from Mr. Schmidt’s Newbery Honor winner The Wednesday Wars, has moved from Long Island with Holling Hoodhood’s beloved Joe Pepitone’s New York Yankees jacket, to upstate New York to face the uncertainty of his father’s hostility and being the new kid on the block. With the help of multiple friends and teachers, Doug is able to navigate the natural difficulties associated with 8th grade, the increased tension at home, with his newly developed artistic talent studying Audubon prints and the burgeoning relationship with Lil Spicer, daughter of the local grocery merchant.
This was an extraordinary book. Mr. Schmidt was a master in the layering of story lines of Doug’s life. With the introduction of each bird (you’ll notice them immediately at the beginning of each chapter), and at each obstacle that Doug encounters, it was a natural instinct to reach through the pages to give this kid a hug. Additionally, Mr. Schmidt expertly shows how important teachers are to the lives of our children and that no child is out of reach of being nurtured and taught. And without much effort, he TEACHES the reader as well – about classic literature and art and science – it was seamless.
Finally, this was a story about the rebuilding of a family, the strength of a young man, and the beauty of a friendship. Oh, and birds. Lots and lots of birds.