Monday, March 18, 2019

2020 Contenders: Birdie, by Eileen Spinelli

Amateur ornithologist Birdie Briggs is twelve years old, and her life is in flux. She's experiencing her first crush, which has consequences for the rest of her social life; her mother may have a new love interest for the first time since the death of Birdie's father, and even her grandmother, Maymee, has a new man in her life. It's a lot for Birdie to manage, and she's trying to learn how to adapt.

I felt like the best thing about Birdie, Eileen Spinelli's new verse novel, is the way it captures the shifting emotions of a not-quite-teenager. Sometimes she's elated, sometimes she's depressed, sometimes she's throbbing with inchoate anger, but Birdie's feelings all rang true to me. Being twelve is a difficult time in one's life, and Spinelli records Birdie's internal experiences with grace and sympathy.

Indeed, Birdie is a gentle novel all the way around, one where the action and conflicts are largely interior. Bad things happen in the book's world, to be sure, but they're overcome with tenderness and love. It's a story and a setting filled with warmth.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I'm not much of a verse novel fan. Trying to set that personal preference aside, I can tell you that the pacing of the book seemed effective to me. I don't think that Birdie possesses the same level of technical mastery of The Moon Within or Caminar, but it's certainly competent. I don't know if I would have made the same choice that Spinelli did in giving each of the poems a title, but that's probably just my own predilection as a reader.

You should never take your Newbery odds from me -- I'm the guy who said "no picture book will ever win the Newbery" the year that Last Stop on Market Street won, after all. That said, I'm not sure that Birdie is going to rise to the top of what's already shaping up to be a hypercompetitive field for the 2020 medal. I do think that fans of Spinelli's writing, and readers who enjoy carefully-crafted interior worlds, will enjoy Birdie very much.

Publication in April by Eerdmans

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