Twelve-year-old Scarlet Ibis Mackenzie struggles to care for her brother and protect her family.
With a mother who sleeps and smokes her way through most days, Scarlet has shouldered most of the household responsibilities as well as the care of her sensitive younger half brother, Red. Scarlet works hard to keep her family together, but it’s not easy to predict her mother’s bouts of anger and melancholy and support her brother through hair-trigger emotional upheavals, all while trying to ward off social worker Mrs. Gideon. Her worst fears are realized when a fire destroys the family’s apartment, and Scarlet is placed in foster care without Red. With some cursory Americanization to help the book make the leap across the pond as well as a dash of her signature wildlife enthusiasm, Lewis explores an array of complexities, all to do with family and resilience. Scarlet’s separation from Red (explained as necessary due to Red’s autism spectrum disorder) exacerbates what Scarlet sees as existing splinters of difference (Red is white like their withdrawn mother, and mixed-race Scarlet is dark-skinned like her absent father). And Scarlet uses Red’s fascination with feathers and birds—including the baby pigeon that survives the apartment fire—to find not only a way into her brother’s world, but the hope of reuniting them in the new security of a foster home.
Sadness and hope combine in this heartfelt British import. (Fiction. 11-14)