Sunday, October 24, 2021

"Sugar Birds" by Cheryl Grey Bostrom

This was not always an easy book to read, but it was a fulfilling one.  There was a point when things took a dark turn where I probably would have just stopped reading if I wasn't reading it for my church's book club -- but I'm glad I stuck with it, because the ending was so beautiful and healing.

Ten-year-old Aggie causes a horrific accidental fire that she believes kills both of her parents.  Terrified she'll be sent to prison, she runs off into the woods alone.  Using all the woodlore and survival skills her father taught her, she survives, at least physically.  Emotionally, she is a crumbling bundle of guilt and remorse.

Sixteen-year-old Celia absolutely hates the idea of staying at with her grandmother for the whole summer, especially since her father tricked her into travelling there.  She meets a guy who seems to understand her anger all too well, but his own problems could pose a whole new kind of trouble.  Meanwhile, another young man teaches her that even complex emotions can be explored in healthy and healing ways, even if you don't quite understand them.

Celia and Aggie's paths cross and recross, tangling them together in ways that will eventually help rescue them both.

I do wish that the presentation of Christian faith and the ways God can bring healing and understanding had not been presented so obliquely.  They were hinted at, but almost in a mystical way, and I came out feeling like this should be labeled "religious fiction" instead of "Christian."

On the other hand, I loved the way the author handled one supporting character's autism.  This book is set in the 1980s, and the way she had other characters responding to and not understanding his autism felt very similar to my memories of how people interacted with the autistic son of some of my friends' parents back when I was a kid in the '80s.  Both my childhood friend and this character are what some people call "high-functioning," in that they make friends, hold jobs, and so on, but are experiencing life in their own unique way.  I would say this is the best book with an autistic character that I have read since Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman.

Bostrom's writing is fluid, her pacing was irresistible, and her characters felt real and believable.  I quickly got attached to three characters, and liked several others quite well by the end.  Although things got very tense about three-quarters of the way through, I assure you that everything wraps up in a good way, and the Big Bad Thing I was expecting to happen, or nearly happen, did not.  I don't want to spoil this book any more than that, as I think a lot of my bookish friends would really like this one.

From my Instagram

Particularly Good Bits:

My library?  Hers now, too, though socks fit a rooster better than Meredith fit into any library (p. 29).

Who was I kidding?  My anger was merely a cover for my sadness.  It didn't protect me at all (p. 205).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for realistic danger, mention of a date rape drug, some violence, and children handling firearms.  A couple of minor bad words said by a character who is obviously not a good guy.

This is my 42nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

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