Some authors write characters who connect to you immediately. Some authors write things that happen to characters that connect to you immediately. This is in the second category and this lady knows her craft.
Eleven-year-old Naomi Orenstein, better known as Chirp, isn't sure what's going to happen next. She was walking home from bird-watching in the salt marsh and now Joey Morell stands between her and the safety of her house. Joey and his family are unknowns but Chirp doesn't have a good feeling about them and watching Joey throw rocks at the telephone pole is making her uneasy. Will she be the next target?
For Chirp life is about to give her the very painful feeling that she is a target. Growing up on Cape Cod in a Jewish family with her father, a psychiatrist, her mother who teaches dance and her older sister, Rachel, Chirp is one of those girls who notices all the little things about other people. She watches faces and she senses feelings. She can tell you all sorts of things about her mother that she holds in a private treasure chest deep inside and she does her best to keep her mother happy and on an even keel.
It's Chirp's mother who shares her sense of wonder about the natural world around her and it's Chirp who knows when her mother needs her to do her own wonderful dance with all of its perfected leaps.
Rachel, Chirp's older sister, joins in the dancing with Chirp sometimes but these days she's ready to give up the old traditions like trick-or-treating in trade for new grown-up experiences like smoke-filled parties.
When her mother falls ill, Chirp's world goes gray. The color has simply washed out of it. Her father struggles to create some sense of normalcy in the family with Mom being away in a hospital trying to get better.
This is a story of imperfect worlds, imperfect people and imperfect relationships that can wander into good places and even hopefulness. Turns out teachers with rut-filled routines can still show their care. Turns out grown ups can miss opportunities. Turns out neighbors can be best friends even if their own homes are dangerous places.
Chirp, Joey, Dawn, Rachel, Joey's family, Chirp's grandparents and the staff at school are the people you see when you wander the aisles of the Cape Cod grocery store. With their minds on their own stories they stumble and they shine and they sometimes wake up to offer a hand to someone who might need special care.
Steadily moving forward, grounded in the natural world around her, Chirp takes her little steps and even attempts a flight or two. Her heart is still open to trust and to love even when life shows her its most painful side.
This author sees children very clearly right down to the bare sinew and understands how it feels to be tossed into a less-than-perfect world with only the tools you've gathered to that birthday. She really takes us to the heart of the fears and the helplessness and then hands the children a trophy when they figure out life still has goodness and love to hold dear.
Set in the 1970s this is a tender story of gritty children who find ways to be resilient even though life is not perfect. Can Chirp find her way to the place that holds the good things of life? Is it really there? You may need your tissues.
978-0385-386074 326 pages Ages 10-13
Recommended by: Barb, abookandahug.com