Be Light Like a Bird was a relatively quick read for me, in that I finished the book in less than a day thanks to the quick chapters and the immersive story line. This heart wrenching middle grade novel explores what it means to feel lost and alone after the death of a loved one who gave you so much happiness. It was a hard novel to read and it really did a number on me emotionally.
Wren is a twelve year old girl who has just experienced the most painful losses imaginable – the loss of her father, who made her smile and taught her important life lessons. The two of them shared a love of bird watching and with her mother and father, Wren felt as though her life was happy and complete.
But now her father is gone forever, and her mother doesn’t want to talk about it. Instead, she gets rid of her father’s belongings, throws their things in their old car, and forces Wren to move from her much loved home. As the two of them drive across the country and settle down in random places, only to have her mother make her move again after they get settled, Wren can’t help but wonder why her mother is so bitter and eager to find another man to take his place.
While Wren’s world is falling apart, she tries to convince her mother to stay in their most recent stop – the town of Pyramid, Michigan. While her mother works to keep them afloat and Wren starts at a new school, where she tries to make friends with popular girls, she is paired with the class nerd for a project, and even though Wren is disappointed in her partner, the two of them eventually develop a friendship.
When it turns out that Wren’s popular friend’s father is going to destroy a park and wetland environment that Wren loves to visit to bird watch, she works with her new friend and partner Theo to try and stop it from happening. In the process, she learns about him, including the fact that he enjoys photography and bird watching, too. The loss of his mother and the loss of Wren’s father allow them to find solace in each other and become friends, even though it is causing her to lose her old ones. When Wren uncovers some secrets about her father that make her rethink everything she’s come to know, it frightens her to think that her one place of peace is at risk, too.
This is the kind of story that reminds me why I love middle grade novels so much. It’s raw in emotion and the feelings are so blunt and honest, where in novels for young adults and adults, characters have so many complications around their feelings. Middle grade novels are full of honesty, whether it be refreshing or brutal, and the characters are not afraid to express themselves.
This novel has a vibrant cast of characters that all express their feelings and emotions freely – it isn’t a novel that acts as though the target audience does not have emotions or should not behave or feel certain ways, but rather it shows a healthy expression of these emotions. It’s okay to get upset with parents for dating when the other parent has passed away. It’s okay to fight for things that you believe in, and do so loudly. Many books try to get middle graders to conform and behave, but I love that this book allowed Wren to express her feelings the way she wanted to express them. It was beautifully done.
The one thing that I thought was a little dark about this book was that when Wren would stop to pick up dead animals off the side of the road to give them a proper burial (such as squirrels and the like), the descriptions of them in their current state were just…a bit morbid for me. I didn’t feel like they added too much to the story, but rather were just a bit unnerving.
If you are looking for a heartbreaking and heartwarming middle grade novel, this is a great one to choose. It makes you look at the world from a different angle, and the depth of the characters, especially Wren’s, is simply amazing and makes the reading experience quite memorable. I loved Wren and Theo together – their friendship isn’t instant, and instead it takes a while to form. They eventually bond over their shared grief and love of bird watching, and they learn new things from each other. It was also refreshing to see them together as friends, instead of the romantic relationship that would have developed in a book for an older audience.
As Theo and Wren fought to save the park that they had come to love, it was interesting to see how other members of the community stood up to have a say to save it, too. It shows that teamwork and working together really can make a difference – and in today’s world, that is an important message for children and adults of all ages.
As an adult, this book truly touched my heart and gave me a bit of my faith in humanity back. It was beautiful and filled me with hope.