Originally posted on my blog Guiltless Reading Open yourself up to the unexpected ... open yourself up to possibilities.
The book in one sentence: An orphaned girl's luck changes on the day that a boy falls out of a tree.
My two cents: It's been awhile since I've sunk my teeth into a good children's book ... and this was such a treat to read! Recommended for children aged 8-12 / grades 3-7, I could totally see a young adult reader liking this just as much. While I have also heard so many raves about the Newbery-winner author Sharon Creech. But this is my first read of any of her work.
Like the opening scene where a young boy falls from a tree right at the feet of orphan Naomi Dean, this book was a surprise for me. It is hopeful and magical, without being cheesy. It combines a poignant story (warm fuzzies!) with elements of magic and superstition (this may be a great introduction to magical realism for kids!). As a children's book, it teaches while still catering to a young imagination.
So, who is this boy - Finn - who falls out of the tree? For most of the book, he comes and goes and he is so mysterious and strange that I often wondered if he was real. And what of the strange coincidence that Naomi' guardian Nula knew of several Finns back in her day?
Two stories play out simultaneously: that of Naomi and her friend Lizzie Scatterding and Finn in Blackbird Tree; and a Mrs. Kavanagh and Pilpenny in Ireland. At first, I didn't know what to make of the storyline with Kavanagh and Pilpenny -- I kept wondering if it had any relevance to Naomi because it seemed to be taking too long to play itself out. But my patience paid off and the puzzle pieces fell into place.
It all involves a string of strange events - involving a Finn, some heartbreak, dogs, rooks (or crows) ... leading up to a happy ending, and a sense of hope that the world is one's oyster ... if one is willing to open oneself up to the possibilities.
"I had big thoughts to match the big wind. I wondered if we find the people we need when we need them. I wondered if we attract our future by some sort of invisible force, or if we are drawn to it by a similar force. I felt I was turning a corner and that change was afoot."I loved:
Overall, this story has no shortage of memorable and rather eccentric characters! Be on the lookout for the witch, the Dingle Dangle man, and some of the "poor souls" of Blackbird Tree!
Naomi and Lizzie are such wonderful characters! Both young and innocent, yet Naomi is wise beyond her years compared to the chatterbox, oh-so-sassy and totally oblivious Lizzie. Yet while their lives are difficult and they have had more than their share of sorrow, I never felt that they pitied themselves or their circumstances. They are memorable characters whose friendship played out in a very enjoyable and realistic way.
I also really enjoyed Joe's and Nula's backstories. Nula's past is the core of the book, and makes for some fun piecing together of her past hurts and relationships and her future with Naomi. Meanwhile, I loved how we come to learn the extent of Joe's love for Naomi ... which explained some a very strange about why there are no dogs in the town.
There are some really fun words in this book that I have never come across, and I am assuming that they Irish terms. Kids will have fun with the strange terms and rhymes -- Dingle Dangle anyone?
The incorporation of the Finn McCoul legend. Fun!
Look at the cover illustration. I just love it!
< spoiler follows >*
All these connections and coincidences ... a tad too many and maybe unrealistic?
The flipping back and forth between two stories was extremely disorienting for me in the beginning. I think I sort of tuned out of the Ireland story because I just didn't get the connection. But when the connection finally kicked it, I just loved it.
The end just became a bit too complicated for me -- there was a rush of too much good news and the Finn McCoul part of it had already played out. Plus I don't exactly understand why a fairy ring had to be brought into the story as it didn't really add anything relevant; it could have been removed totally and the story wouldn't suffer for it.
Verdict: A wonderful children's book about the six degrees of separation, and of hope and opening oneself up to the unexpected. A must-read for Creech fans!
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through Goodreads First Reads.
Really enjoyed this! Full review coming soon!