Twelve-year-old Jewel has never liked her birthday. Celebrating the day she was born is just another reminder to her family of the brother she never met, 5-year-old John, nicknamed Bird by her grandfather, who tried to fly off a cliff and fell to his death while her mother was in labor with Jewel. It’s more than loss and grief that surrounds Bird’s death; it’s superstition and blame that Jewel has never fully understood. Her grandfather hasn’t spoken since the day Bird died, and her father is sure the nickname “Bird” attracted a Duppy, a Jamaican spirit, that convinced him to jump.

Sick of living in the shadow of a ghost and never living up to her parents’ expectations, Jewel is ecstatic when she meets a new kid in the neighborhood who shares her love of science and climbing trees, who listens to her problems and worries and seems to understand. But when she brings him home, her parents are unnerved, and her grandfather is livid—because the boy's name just happens to be John.

Bird is a heartbreaking story of a girl trying everything she can to fill the hole her brother left in her family. While the majority of the book shows her parents as incredibly sad, too wrapped up in their own grief to notice the love and needs of the child they still have left, the most powerful sections describe their fleeting happiness. Each smile from her mother terrifies Jewel, because she never knows when the next one will come or exactly how to bring it about. Every declaration of pride from her father is hard-won and treasured.

Author Crystal Chan also paints a vivid picture of what it means to grow up in a mixed-race family. Jewel takes pride in her father’s Jamaican garden, but she’s frustrated when her neighbor expects her to be able to speak Spanish, and even more frustrated when strangers ask what she is instead of who.

Bird is a fast read but will stay with you. You’ll remember Jewel’s spirit, what John teaches her about space and the message that there are plenty of ways to show you love someone without actually saying those three words.

 

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.

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