Author: Crystal Chan
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Availability: January 28, 2014
Review Copy: Edelweiss Digital ARC
Summary: Entrenched secrets, mysterious spirits, and an astonishing friendship weave together in this extraordinary and haunting debut. "Nothing matters. Only Bird matters. And he flew away."
Jewel never knew her brother Bird, but all her life she has lived in his shadow. Her parents blame Grandpa for the tragedy of their family's past; they say that Grandpa attracted a malevolent spirit--a duppy--into their home. Grandpa hasn't spoken a word since. Now Jewel is twelve, and she lives in a house full of secrets and impenetrable silence. Jewel is sure that no one will ever love her like they loved Bird, until the night that she meets a mysterious boy in a tree. Grandpa is convinced that the boy is a duppy, but Jewel knows that he is something more. And that maybe--just maybe--the time has come to break through the stagnant silence of the past. -- Cover image and summary via IndieBound
Review: Bird punched me in the gut on the very first page. Within the first few pages the reader sees a bit of the pain that Jewel's family is struggling through. As the story continues, it becomes evident that the family may be struggling, but it seems they are losing the battle. Jewel meets a mysterious boy though and she starts changing. It's hard to tell whether the change is a good thing. Crystal Chan manages to keep the reader wondering about a lot of things. Is Jewel changing for the better or the worse? Is the boy a duppy or just what he claims? What keeps Grandpa silent? All of this wondering kept me reading at a fast clip.
Much of the book takes place outside. Jewel and her family have a garden, but she is also out climbing trees, walking in the rain, climbing and examining rocks and spending time at a cliff. Another character loves space, so there is also a healthy dose of star gazing. Jewel's home is an uncomfortable place to be so it made sense that she would be away from it as much as possible.
The book slowed down a bit in the middle, but what kept me interested was the conflict and relationship between Jewel and her grandfather who was withdrawn and silent. Jewel's grandfather seemed more than just detached. He even seemed a bit hostile. I wanted to puzzle that out and I had hope for some change. In addition to the family issues, Jewel and her new friend both seem to be dealing with how they fit in with their families, but also in the wider community. Jewel's father is Jamaican and her mother is Mexican which is pretty unusual in small town Iowa. Race isn't the central issue of the book, but does come up and I am glad to find a middle grade book happening in the mid-west with such a situation. There are young people here in the mid-west that need to see that they are not alone as a mixed-race child.
There is just enough mystery to keep the reader off-balance and interested in the solution and the relationships are what won me over. The word duppies might have been a factor too. I love learning fun new words. This would be a nice addition to an elementary library.
Interview/Discussion with Caroline Rose Starr
Read part of the book here (I don't know how many pages are available)