This short chapter book tackles common, but intimidating, childhood problems, such as bullies, divorce, step-parents and alcoholic parents.
Twelve-year old Ian shares the hobby of pigeon racing with his newly remarried dad, but he’s also entranced by Ollie, the falcon owned by the family of his new step-cousin, Chad. When Ollie kills Ian’s champion pigeon, Ian and his dad acquire a new racing pigeon with a prestigious pedigree. But the bird has a bad habit that prevents it from racing (flying on to the roof of the house, instead of into the coop), so the boys decide to use Ollie to frighten the pigeon into behaving properly before the big race. Ian relies on his Dad’s judgment, while learning that his new stepmother is actually pretty cool, and that his bully cousin Chad, who has to deal with his drunken father, has his own vulnerabilities. While the author doesn’t gloss over the danger, aside from the original pigeon’s death, all ends well. Although Natural Instinct resembles a beginning chapter book in length, Bechler sets her prose at a fairly advanced level, which will make it appealing to older readers. Hart’s fuzzy charcoal drawings provide a subtle enhancement to the story.
The breezy discussion of an unusual, appealing hobby keeps this problem novel from becoming overbearingly message-driven. (Fiction. 10-12)