A haunting fable inflected with mythological and fairy-tale motifs finds two sisters abandoned by their parents in conflict with each other.
Summer, 12, and Bird, 9, live an idyllic life with their ornithologist father, their mother and their cat. When they wake one morning to find parents and cat gone, there is just an enigmatic "picture letter" from their mother left behind. Into the woods they go to find them, their fright exacerbating the resentments that normally exist between sisters. Bird finds the way into Down, a place of magic, and Summer follows, but soon they are tragically separated, and each must blunder along on her own. Their mother, it turns out, is queen of the birds, in human form since their father stole her swan robe. The evil Puppeteer craves her power, to have bird language and wings, and she cozens Bird into her service, White Witch–like. The girls’ physical journeys are metaphors for their emotional ones, the helpers and adversaries they meet as strange and as complicated as their psyches. The author balances this meticulous, symbol-rich narrative with a light, storyteller's voice, posing questions that readers must answer for themselves. At its heart, it is a story of love and imperfection, and of the necessity of embracing both.
"The way a story is told has power," the narrator asserts; Catmull’s languorously beautiful telling is puissant indeed. (Fantasy. 10-14)