The Bower Bird

by Ann Kelley

This unusual children’s book is written with a beautiful sense of place in the physical world and of belonging. The narrator is Gussie, twelve years old and awaiting a heart transplant. She has moved from London to Cornwall with her mother after the parents separated. 

The daughter of an artist and a photographer, Gussie shares her observations of the beautiful landscape, the creatures in it, and an intriguing assortment of idiosyncratic books she ferrets out. Too sick to attend school, she longs for friendship and the simple things, like running along the beach. She has a crush on an Australian boy who is kind to her and shares her interests, but the dominant theme of the book is belonging (emphasis on longing). Gussie wants to be part of a family, a community, a place. She lives life to the full and wants most of all to live, whilst accepting the possibility of her own death with grace.

Written for the most part in stream of consciousness style, Ann Kelley’s beautiful book is like a river running deeply through a landscape changing gradually with the seasons. Slow and poetic, The Bower Bird will suit introspective readers of all ages. But it is not without a certain drama:

I dreamt that we were driving along, Daddy and Mum and me, and two little birds, blue-tits or sparrows, who were dancing together in the air, twittering loudly, flew into the windscreen of our car and were smashed to pieces. I woke with feelings of dread and guilt and sadness in the middle of the night to an awful sound, a sound like a blackbird being slowly crushed in the jaws of a cat.

The Bower Bird won the Costa Children’s Book Award 2007, and is a sequel to The Burying Beetle

The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley, Luath Press, UK, 2007, 208 pages.

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