At once both familiar and exotic, the rural Pennsylvania world of 12-year-old Claire Belle, an obsessive birdwatcher, is anything but mundane.
Along with her rambunctious sheepdog Sammy, best friend Victor, a member of the Cochiti Indian tribe, and Jerry â€œThe Chicken Man,” Claire embarks on a life-changing journey involving a red-railed hawk that just might hold the key to her biggest secret–her ability to attract whatever bird she happens to be wearing a picture of on her shirt that day. Butler’s greatest triumph is her ability to bring her young hyperaware heroine to life. Using all five senses, the author describes Claire’s passion for the beauty of nature, its vivid sounds and smells–of â€œhemlock needles, scenting the crisp air” and crows that chirp like â€œtiny honking cars”–as well as sights like â€œlattices of shadow” that lie on a â€œtwisting lane.” Instead of creating an unreachable fantasy world, Butler shines a spotlight on everyday magic without shying away from life’s tribulations. A subplot reveals the tension between Claire and her best friend Victor, a video- gamer as much as Claire is a birder, who is involved in his own exploration of a new frontier that leaves Claire behind–a â€œmission to Mars” undertaken with her only enemy Billy, a bully with a glass eye and a drunken father who also crosses Claire’s path. The story moves swiftly and unpredictably, barreling over its few inconsistencies, like Victor being both a shy boy who eats lunch alone and a gregarious gamer, or Billy being both scared of guns and willing to shoot at a nest unprovoked, not to mention several distracting typos. In fact, the nonstop action-adventure is so detailed–from depictions of a widow’s bobby-pinned hair, to Claire’s big home that doubles as her single mom’s country store, to the reasons Claire chose her bedroom with its large maple tree outside the window–that the book’s unspecific title and bland cover art simply don’t do justice to the narrative. Nor does the book’s ending, which wraps up inorganically. It moves from Claire being held at gunpoint to becoming friends with her sworn enemy in the span of a few quick pages. Even Claire wouldn’t believe that.
A rare bird of a children’s book that encourages young readers to become environmentally conscious.