Charlie's dad is in the hospital with a brain injury and no one knows if he will get any better. His dad was researching an article in the middle of the war in Afghanistan when a bomb exploded killing his driver and throwing Dad into the air and then dropping him onto the road. Gram is taking care of Charlie, his sister Davis, and his twin younger brothers, Joel and Jake.
How can Charlie make his dad better? What can Charlie do to control his life and keep bad things from happening to him? One thing Charlie does is wash his hands, over and over and over again and as he does he counts until he has gotten to twelve. Some days things are so chaotic in Charlie's life that he has to wash again and again. He also rows his chicken nuggets up, inspects them and starts eating from the middle of the row. Charlie is on the autism spectrum.
He has learned visual cues from his sister, Davis, so he has some idea of what people are trying to tell him without using their words. But,, Charlie has a hard time communicating with new people. He has a hard time with change and new period.
The doctors at Dad's hospital in San Diego have decided Dad would get better treatment at a hospital across the country in Virginia. There are specialists there who have a lot of experience and knowledge about treating brain injuries. Gram packs her things, arranges for a babysitter and flies off to Virginia with dad to be his advocate.
That leaves Charlie, his sister, and the twins trying to figure things out on their own. Twists and turns take them on the road in an RV with a twenty-something pink-haired young woman named Ludmilla who speaks with a strange, possibly Russian, accent. Davis and Charlie don't trust her and are trying to figure out what she's up to.
Charlie thinks about the journey they are taking and creates his own plan for helping Dad. He and Dad talked about birds once. "Are you a flocker or a loner, Charlie, " asked Dad. Charlie is certain he's a loner but he also remembers how much he and his dad enjoyed seeing birds together. Maybe if he put together a list of birds he and his father always wanted to see and he finds them somewhere along the way as they travel across country and checks them off, his father will feel happy and that happiness will help him heal. Charlie makes his list of Someday Birds and off they go.
We are all sitting in a certain place in our lives with our strategies for coping and surviving. We have figured out how to "do" life in our space. But, life has a way of coming along and knocking you out of your space. Then, what? Maybe like Ludmilla, you find yourself in Sarajevo, in the middle of a war and you lose so much of the world you know. How do you go on? How do you find good things in a world that has shown you so much darkness?
Charlie's journey and Ludmilla's journey are big journeys about change and acceptance and courage and trust. As they travel across the United States headed to Dad and Gram, life starts unrolling its good times carpet. Kind people and the Wall Drug and parrots and bald eagles and cute guys and old friends and new babies show up day after day and mile by mile.
This is wacky adventure for the fun-lovers and sensitive growing for the insight lovers. Some characters to root for, some characters to wonder about and a journey that should sound familiar since we are all on our own version of it without a GPS or a map. You just get started and go and get to be amazed by what you will find. Setting out to look for a bird or two is good enough to get you there.
325 pages 978-0062445766 Ages 8-12
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
"Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets.
And it usually is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized bird books and art supplies, his favorite foods, and comfortable routines.
But life has been unraveling since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him. With his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel, the journey looks anything but smooth.
So Charlie decides to try and spot all the birds that he and his dad had been hoping to see together in the wild. If he can complete the Someday Birds list for Dad, then maybe, just maybe, things will turn out okay...
Equal parts madcap road trip, coming-of-age story for an unusual boy, and portrait of a family overcoming a crisis."--from the publisher