WHAT THE BIRDS SEE by Sonya Hartnett
Kirkus Star


Age Range: 12 & up
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A bleakly haunting novel focuses its lens on a child struggling to survive in a family of emotional cripples. The tale opens with the disappearance of three siblings on their way to the ice cream shop, but this serves only to set up and frame the story of nine-year-old Adrian, as lost in his family as the three abducted children are in the world. His parents being unwilling and unable to care for him, he lives with his grandmother, a widow who is burdened with the certainty that she hasn’t the energy or the desire to raise a boy, and his uncle, a once-vigorous man who has chosen to live in self-imposed exile from the world after causing the death of a friend in an automobile accident. Adrian goes joylessly from home to school, where he clings desperately to the society of the only boy who will acknowledge him and where he watches with horror the antics of the mad Horsegirl, a student from a nearby home for troubled children; he knows that he is only a hairsbreadth away from descending to her status in the schoolyard. When a peculiar family moves in across the street, he finds himself drawn to them, desperate for child society; the older girl is obsessed with the lost children, and Adrian finds himself sucked—disastrously—into her search for them. Hartnett (Thursday’s Child, 2002, etc.) has a genius for voice, her third-person narrative sliding effortlessly from Adrian’s point-of-view to his grandmother’s and back, always tightly filtering the story through the experiences and perceptions of her focus. The precision of language and unsentimental look into children’s capacity for cruelty and despair recall Cormier, as does the weaving in and out of the mystery of the lost children as counterpoint. There is no great cataclysmic ending, no blinding revelation here, however—just a series of small, child-sized cataclysms, ignored by those who should love Adrian and drowned out by media ravings over the lost children. Exquisite, wrenching, unforgettable. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7636-2092-0
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Candlewick
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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