Friday, November 18, 2016

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder, 2016

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After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she's ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don't deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigans Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.
(240 pages)

This is a fairly melancholy book, but not in an overpowering way. I was a little worried about reading Be Light Like a Bird right now, just because I'm already emotionally overextended from stressing out about college stuff, but it actually turned out to be an almost cathartic read for me. Nothing like reading about a girl with a dead dad to put things in perspective, you know?

I'm moved tons of times, so I know how hard it can be to let go of a past home and live somewhere new, but Wren's moves are like a thousand times worse than any I've ever done. She lived in one place–one house–her entire life, and suddenly she's forced to leave all of that behind and start completely from scratch! Add to that the reason for their sudden move (her father's plane crash, which didn't even leave behind a body to be buried), the fact that she didn't even have anything of her father's to remember him by, and things become extremely bleak.

Considering how horrible her experiences were, I can completely understand Wren's anger at her mother and her desperation to put down roots and be absorbed into a support system–any support system. That's why I really kind of despised her mom for most of the book. Even at the end, when we learn a little more about the reasons for her actions, I'm still not really okay with them. Wren shouldn't have had to befriend strangers just to talk about how much she missed her father.

Now that we're on the topic of Wren's new friends, though, I have to say that I really loved them for the most part. I didn't particularly like Carrie, the popular girl Wren decides to befriend as a way of fusing herself into the social hierarchy at school, but I thought the way Wren responded to Carrie's nastiness was much more mature and realistic than the ways characters in other books have handled similar situations. Theo was another slightly stereotypical character (the nerdy unpopular boy who's secretly an ideal best friend for the main character), but somehow I didn't really mind. He and Wren bond over interesting things like bird-watching and photography, and Theo–who's mother died a few years before–is as a compassionate friend who knows exactly what Wren is going through. I hope the two of them stay side-by-side for a very long time.

Honestly, though, I can't put my finger on it but I just wanted . . . more from Be Light Like a Bird. I don't mean more in the sense of having a heavier dosage of Wren's grief, because I think Schröder handled that aspect of the story beautifully, but I just mean more details. If Wren lived her entire life in that one town, why does she barely even think about it? You'd think she'd feel the loss of her old classmates, who were at least familiar even if they weren't her best friends, and that she'd spend more time comparing her old home with this new one. More than anything, though, I honestly felt like we don't get a very good description of her father. We get flashbacks and memories with him in them, but I never feel like I truly know him as a complex and nuanced human being.

To be fair, the focus of Be Light Like a Bird really isn't on Wren's father or her old town, or even on her mother. The focus is on Wren's struggle to move on from her father's death, and I think it does a great job of that. Be Light Like a Bird is a beautiful book in its own way, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks they'd like it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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