I have a seven year old daughter who was diagnosed with autism when she was three, so I was really drawn into this book from the very first moment I heard about it. I knew I would absolutely love Charlie’s character, and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of adventures he was going to have in The Someday Birds.
This novel is full of hope and family, and the importance of sticking together in the midst of a crisis. It’s also about Charlie, our twelve year old narrator, who is forced into a cross country trip by his sister and younger brothers, to go to Virginia, where his father is at a hospital receiving treatment for a brain injury. The whole idea for this book just sounded charming and heartwarming, and I’ll be completely honest – it was definitely a sweet book that made me appreciate my own family and those who may not be related to me, but who are like family anyway.
“Bird behavior is pretty consistent. You can write it down, know it, understand it. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do that with people.”
Twelve year old Charlie knows birds. He knows what they look like, how they act, and he spends a good portion of time learning new bird facts and drawing a variety of species. In fact, this is something that she shared with his father – before the accident that landed him in the hospital and left him with a brain injury that stole who he was.
Now Charlie feels alone, and as if he can’t really understand a lot of what is going on in the world, or the people in it. He often has trouble with sarcasm, visual cues, and body language, and conversations can be difficult for him. His father understood this in ways that no one else was able to, and since his father is now in the hospital, Charlie has been left with his grandmother, older sister, and younger twin brothers.
One day, his grandmother informs them that his father will be moved to a hospital in Virginia, because they believe they may be able to help him there. So his grandmother goes with them, leaving Ludmila – a woman who has strange ties to his family that no one knows about except his grandmother – in charge. None of the kids like Ludmila, and Charlie’s older sister convinces her boyfriend to take them across the country to meet up with their grandmother.
However, an accident and an argument causes that play to go awry, and when their grandmother is informed, she sends Ludmila to fetch them. While Charlie just wants to go home and wait – back to his familiar bedroom, food, and routine – Ludmila was instructed to pick up an RV and take them on a cross country journey to get to the hospital.
Along the way, they run into all sorts of crazy adventures, and Charlie makes the best of this forced journey – checking off a list he and his father had come up with titled “The Someday Birds” – a list full of bird species that he and his father would have loved to see. From birds that are extinct to birds that are still around in the wild, Charlie works his hardest to check out off as many as he can, despite the way his family feels about it.
“‘Checking birds off some dumb list is not going to help Dad feel better. It’s only gonna help you feel better.’
Silence spreads in the car. A small lump forms in my throat. Then Ludmila says in a strange voice, ‘Well, maybe that’s a good enough reason.”‘
While they travel, seeing landmarks and exploring, Ludmila slowly begins to tell her tale – the tale of her childhood and how she had come to know their father. It is a heartbreaking tale full of sadness and bad memories, but it is full of depth and is a vital part of the story.
The book is told from Charlie’s point of view, and it’s obvious that no matter how much he loves his family, he often feels like he doesn’t really fit in with them – at least not the way that he fit in with his father. He gets teased, made fun of for his habits (such as his counting, hand washing, and eating habits), and no one wants to indulge him in his desire to check the birds off of his list, because he beleives that when he sees his father, it will make him feel better and bring him back to his old self.
“I imagine what it’ll be like to tell Dad: ‘Remember how I hate the outdoors? Well, I’ve come all the way across the country to you, and I’ve seen all the birds on our Someday list, Dad.”‘
The amount of love that Charlie has for not only his father, but for the rest of his family, is simply heartwarming. Charlie might have a difficult time portraying emotions, but his heart is deep and he knows how to be sure his father knows he is loved. He takes risks, he does things that he hates, and he has to use some pretty grimy bathrooms on his trek across country with his family.
I really loved Charlie’s character (in case you can’t tell), and I thought that this entire book is a fun and heartwarming read not just for middle graders, but for adults, even. It’s funny at some spots,and it’s definitely full of personality.
This is definitely a must read for anyone who has someone in their lives who has autism, as you will be able to relate to Charlie and it makes the book seem that much more personal. You can tell the author really did a lot of research and put a lot into this book, as it was carefully written and created with a lot of love.