The only thing December trusts is her story. One day the scar on her back will open up and she’ll sprout wings. She’s a bird waiting for the moment she’ll transform, and then she’ll be able to fly into her future. But when she’s kicked out of yet another foster home and placed with Eleanor, a taxidermist and animal sanctuary volunteer, December begins to rethink everything she believes about her past and what her future could look like.
Some authors are able to tap into a voice so powerfully truthful it’s breathtaking. That’s the case with Sandy Stark-McGinnis, writing from the perspective of December. She’s a girl obviously used to taking care of herself, and she doesn’t crave contact from those outside her circle of one— others aren’t like her anyway. Stark-Mcginnis manages to weave December’s independent mindset with subtle vulnerability as she explores her new life. In every sense, she feels authentic.
Part of what makes her so believable is the grounded world she inhabits. December believes in the fantastical, but she’s surrounded by a group of people she perceives to be ordinary … or at least separate from her. But Eleanor is a calm, understanding, grounding presence who also lets December soar. And then there’s Cheryllynn, a trans girl, who unconditionally befriends December on her first day of school. Even with the difficulty of navigating a new home or dealing with the school mean girls, Stark-McGinnis provides December a comfortable nest with these two.
The text is lyrical and simple, reflecting December’s sometimes blunt or evasive style. Yet it’s also peppered with copious bird facts— after all, bird talk is where December is most comfortable. When she’s considering potoos or flamingos, she unfolds herself, opening up about one of her few known interests. It’s incredibly effective.
Complex and ultimately satisfying, Extraordinary Birds has all the makings of an instant classic.
Title: Extraordinary Birds
Author: Sandy Stark-Mcginnis
Publication Date: April 30, 2019
Classification: Middle Grade
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.