An ornithologist by choice and trade, Nathan loves the world of birds, but as a character he is as much Tom Sawyer as John James Audubon. And fascinating as some of his bird-related research may be (for instance, Eastern Phoebes and Yellow Warblers have responded very differently to climate change), by the end of Snapper, Nathan has learned more about people than any other creature.

Brian Kimberling’s charming first novel immortalizes moments along Nathan’s journey to inner perception in quirky chapters of self-discovery, as he grows up in Indiana—and can’t wait to get out of it. Almost capable of standing alone as short stories themselves, each chapter sheds new light on Nathan’s life journey: his loves, his friendships and his response to health problems.

Time works its black magic on everyone, and readers see Nathan growing up before their eyes, as he navigates Uncle Dart and Aunt Loretta (“who didn’t just come from Texas, they brought it with them”); Lola, his first and persistent love; and Shane, his lifelong friend. Ruefully Nathan arrives at a perverse truth that will restore your faith in the ultimate survival of the best qualities of the human character, especially an acceptance of human nature itself.

Kimberling, a former birdwatcher, now lives in England, where lessons learned in Indiana no doubt hold true as well. With its story of eventual maturity and understanding, Snapper (a reference to a turtle who made a lasting impression on Nathan and his friends, as they unfortunately did on him) is one of those rare books that reads like a breezy exercise of a novel but leaves a profound and lasting impression.

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