Jewel Campbell’s life began the day her older brother John’s tragically ended, a coincidence that’s shaped and shadowed her family since.
Her Jamaican-immigrant grandfather nicknamed John “Bird,” encouraging him to imagine he could fly with disastrous results. He hasn’t said a word since and, along with Jewel’s dad, blames the catastrophe on evil spirits from Jamaica, duppies. Both have gone to great lengths to repel future supernatural harm (Jewel’s white-Mexican mom retains some skepticism). Largely ignored, Jewel is equally in thrall to the family narrative. After the family visits Bird’s grave on her 12th birthday, she steals out to climb a tree in a neighbor’s field and meets a boy who tells her his name is John. Like Jewel, whose passion is geology, he’s a budding scientist with a complex heritage—African-American, adopted by white parents. They exchange secrets. Both feel out of place, moved by forces beyond their control, like the erratic granite boulder Jewel climbs. Jewel’s observant reflections on her rural-Iowa world give this debut its considerable charm. As brutal antagonism intensifies among the adults, the focus shifts to characters and events before Jewel’s birth, making Jewel less actor than bystander in her own story. For young readers especially, the resolution is uncomfortably vague.
Though it loses momentum halfway through, the strong opening bodes well for future endeavors. (Fiction. 10-14)