A bird in danger leads a woman to reminisce about the geese she tended as a girl.
In this posthumously published debut middle-grade novel, Coppola introduces readers to Tessie Farrell, an adult who lives in Florida. When she rescues an injured osprey and goes after the boys who harassed and abducted the bird’s relatives, Tessie reawakens memories of her childhood in 1950s upstate New York. At 9 years old, Tessie is sensitive about having been adopted and has an uneasy relationship with most of her classmates, particularly mean girl Sharon Grand. A slow-burning friendship with librarian and ornithologist Maudie Carrol begins to soften Tessie’s sharp edges (“Instead of criticizing or bossing me, she simply explained why things were”), and caring for a pair of abandoned geese finally gives her a sense of purpose. The geese, Wilbur and Orville, are the subject of Tessie’s science project. Taking care of them allows her to excel in a classroom where she often feels overlooked and to understand the motivations of adoptive parents like her own. The story is a quiet one, focused on Tessie’s internal development rather than a dramatic plot. Coppola has a keen eye for the passion of childhood friendships (“I loved and trusted her so much that if she had told me Santa Claus was real, I would have believed in him again”) and the subtle indignities and joys of being 9 (“In place of friends, I had imagination, and I created one-character plays in which I gave energetic and highly emotional performances, lacking only an audience”). Tessie is a prickly and self-contained character, but an endearing one, who allows readers to understand her conflicts and growth in detail. The prose could have benefited from additional editing, particularly the several points at which the first-person narration inadvertently switches to third-person. But there are also simple but elegant turns of phrase (“Spring comes like a shy bride in Upstate New York”) that make for enjoyable reading and a satisfying story.
An engaging middle-grade tale about the power of love and letting go.