Jewel has grown up in the shadow of her brother’s death. Each birthday is thick with his absence. Until her twelfth birthday, when Jewel meets another boy called John. He talks about planets and space and makes her feel like she can tell him secrets that she’s only ever shared with her rocks. But her Grandpa thinks that John is a duppy and spits at his feet, and even Jewel knows that there’s something that John isn’t telling her, she just isn’t sure what it is.
I feel very lucky to have been asked to review this book as a part of Crystal Chan‘s blog tour. It’s a very special first book, and is fitting that author Martine Murray has given the cover quote, as she has a similar frankness to her characters, a similar wisdom.
This is a book that finds the perfect balance of heaviness and light. It is rich with culture and colour and longing. Jewel longs to be noticed, her mother longs for her son and Grandpa longs to make up for being responsible for the death of his beloved Bird. It’s a book about wanting something more, wanting to eek more from life than just surviving. Jewel wants to be a geologist, but her mother wants her to be something more, something safer, something normal. The overprotectiveness of a mother who has lost one child is understandable, even to Jewel, but just once she wants to be heard not from behind the veil of tragedy that hangs over her family. Jewel’s father is overprotective too, but as a Jamaican, his protection comes in the form of plants, rituals and totems designed to keep the evil spirits, the duppies away from his family.
This exploration of not fitting in because of colour or culture is mirrored in John, the dark skinned boy of a white, rich family. He resents them because they’re a daily reminder that he’s got no links to his birth family who gave him up. In Jewel he finds someone who understands him. She understands what it’s like to be different, and to have people take one look at you and assume that you don’t belong. She understands his obsession with space, and can match his facts about planets with her own about the rocks and the earth. They are companion stars, moving in each others’ atmosphere.
But while I love the relationship that develops between Jewel and John, my favourite character, and my favourite development in the book is Grandpa and his relationship with Jewel. Grandpa starts as a two dimensional angry old man, silenced by his grief and superstitions. But Jewel knows that there was more to him once. Before Bird flew. ‘Pooba’, who gave his grandson a nickname that encouraged him to fly. A smiling Grandpa, with his arm around Granny. Little by little Grandpa becomes more than his silence and rage. Discovering him is one of the many lovely character mysteries to this book and there are some beautiful moments as he starts to become more than a name or a silent, angry figure to Jewel and starts becoming a person with history and joy and music and pain. It’s extraordinary watching Jewel
uncover the mysteries of her family within this old man, and watching her find a place where her soul feels at home.
Words are what we use to tell a story, but it’s the silences that make it special. Crystal Chan uses both to perfection. Her story is one that is captivating to read- it’s rich, colourful, tragically happy and wonderful and the words that she uses to tell it are clean and precise. They are punctuated with perfect silences, lifting this story beyond the everyday and making it fly.
Thanks to Text Publishing I have a copy of “Bird” to giveaway to an Australian reader. Just tell me in the comments why you’d like to read it and I’ll announce the winner in the next couple of weeks.
You can read the rest of Crystal’s journey through the blogosphere at the sites below
Extract on Gobblefunked
Review & Guest Post at VeganYANerds
Review at whY.A.not?
12 Curly Questions on Kids’ Book Review
Review at Diva Booknerd
Review at YA Midnight Reads
Review at inkcrush
Review & Q&A at ALPHAReader