Monday, November 5, 2012

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

One morning Summer and Bird wake up to find their parents gone.  Following a picture message their mother has left, Summer and Bird find themselves in and underground world of birds, where their Queen, a swan, has been missing for 13 years.  In her place is the Puppeteer, who has plotted to take over, if only she can have the swan queen's robe.  Separated, Summer and Bird go on very different journeys, each seeking her heart's desire.

The story is loosely based on a number of fairy tales where swans can take human form - The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson, or perhaps Swan Lake.  As is typical, a man sees a beautiful woman emerge from the body of a swan (or a seal or whatever) and because of his love for her hides her swan robe so she cannot transform.  Quite out of character, the man realizes this was a cruel move and not one of love and tries to return the robe to his now wife, but the robe is gone, stolen by someone who wants to be the swan queen.  The couple has two children, one who is more bird than the other and wants to be a bird more than anything.  But the children do not know about their mother's secret identity, and that although she loves them she also longs to return to her birds.

My biggest struggle when reading this was the question, "Who is this book for?" and I don't know if it's for a YA audience.  Yes, it focuses on two young girls, but the fact that the girls are so young (8  and 12) and it's not written for middle school students causes me to think even more that this is not a children's book.  It's coming from Penguin Young Readers Group, and it's marketed toward YA,'s just not.  Yes, the characters are children, but it's not about the children.

We are looking at the very adult journeys of two very  young people. And the way that their journeys are reflected on is very adult, not the children themselves examining themselves and understanding what's happening.  There is a removal of the childishness, a reflection that is outside of the child's experience.  We are looking back on these things that happened to these children and understanding them in an adult way.  There is no actual connection to young people, even though the characters are young.

Summer and Bird is very lyrical.  It's other worldly and the language is quite lovely.  Summer and Bird travel through strange and mysterious places that are richly described.  They face inner demons and struggle with the feeling of betrayal from their parents.  But again, we don't actually get to experience their realistic child-like emotions.  We get a distant understanding and analysis of what they are experiencing.

One thing bothered me in particular.  Summer and the ravens come to rescue Bird and their mother, who is in the form of a swan.  Bird, in her anger and confusion won't come, so Summer and the swan are carried away by the ravens, leaving Bird with the evil Puppeteer.  The swan is calling out in horrible distress, because her baby is being left behind.  And then they don't go back for her.  Oh, there are reasons.  The swan has a hurt foot so she cannot fly.  Their father is too sick and weak.  But seriously, they're their parents.  If the swan could get a bunch of birds to carry her a few chapters later, you'd think she'd get them to do it to go back for her child.  Or that their father, not matter how sick and weak he might have been, would have tried to go back for bird.  I did not buy that they'd leave her there for weeks longer.

It was a lovely read, but not a YA book.  That doesn't mean a teenager wouldn't read it and love it, they might, but I do not think the target audience of Summer and Bird should be teens.

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