A young faith healer and a nonbeliever embark on an unlikely romance.
Twenty-year-old Ada Franklin has long been known in her rural Pennsylvania community for using sacred chants and Bible verses to heal the sick. But after a fire destroys her family’s barn, Ada loses her ability to “powwow” and begins to question her faith. She works at a Howard Johnson’s in the Blue Mountain Service Plaza, and it’s there that she meets Will Burk, a recent high school grad and committed nonbeliever who pumps gas at the neighboring Esso. Will spends much of his free time rehabilitating an injured raven, Cicero, a preternaturally gifted bird who learns tricks and sometimes even manages to say a few words. Set in 1953, Minick’s (The Blueberry Years, 2010, etc.) coming-of-age novel is poignant throughout. The supporting players are as caringly drawn as the protagonists, including an endearing troupe of gas station attendants and HoJo’s servers and the pleasantly sane adults in Ada's and Will’s lives. The bond between Will and Cicero is also lovingly rendered, though Minick’s decision to allow Cicero to interrupt the third-person narration every few chapters with commentary of his own is something of a misfire given the bird’s propensity for cutesiness. (“Mmm-mm,” Cicero says on the topic of burger meat. “Makes my beak click just talking about it.”) The final third of the book, in which a shocking accident befalls an important character, occasionally veers toward the treacly, but readers may not mind much given the fully realized relationship at the novel’s core.
A compassionate exploration of faith and doubt and a tender (if slightly sentimental) portrait of young love.