#20BooksOfSummer is an annual event hosted by Cathy Brown of 746 Books and runs from 1st June until 1st September With the aim to clearing a target of 5, 10 or 20 books from your TBR but with very relaxed and fun rules.
Here is my joining post & List!
Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
Come on, it’s Alice Hoffman, writer of Practical Magic and other books that cast a light on the potential of the mundane, like starlight pricking through the velvet dark, that we can scratch underneath our world and discover magic has been part of us all along.
A gorgeously nostalgic feeling ‘edge of time’ story that could fit in any post 1950s time frame, as in could be happening right now and equally could be narrating a childhood event of 50 years ago akin to the style of Stephen King’s The Body aka Stand by Me. I found this hard to find treasure when I visited Books and Ink Bookshop in February of last year and I am so grateful.
Nightbird is a children’s tale of the inevitability of change, the burdens of heritage and the power of love; between friends, teenage first love, siblings, parent to child and even for adults who had given up on their chances.
Some towns have a mythical beastie, some Bigfoot, but Sidwell has a monster in the woods that has been glimpsed over the last two centuries, and a witch legend to boot which is fuelling the rumblings to tear down the woods in the name of progress.
Twig Fowler is lonely, her mother still the most beautiful woman in the county but they spend their lives isolated from the community, making famous baked goods from their ancestral orchard farmhouse, never keeping friends, never inviting others in… because they have a secret; Twig is not an only child, and her hidden brother bears the curse brought on their family by the witch 200 years before.
When the Hall family move into the old witch’s house and Twig’s mother finds out they are descendants of the witch, Twig is warned against talking to them, but that can’t stop the Hall girls from trying to make friends, nor the eldest from catching the eye and heart of Twig’s cursed brother.
The men of the Fowler family have carried the same curse ever since Agnes Early put a spell on the one she was meant to marry.
Nightbird is a very slim book by my shelves standards but every word is deep and powerful and resonant, and the story whilst I didn’t want it to end was just perfectly tied up without excess, there is no filler in this book.
Even the scenes of pause and contemplation have meaning, whether it’s Twig sitting with her mother on the porch counting fireflies or scuffing through the woods in deep thought these scenes tell us about the world Twig inhabits both around her and in her mind.
Sure Hoffman could have spiralled it out to double, triple the page count but it would have lacked the authenticity and the perfect balance of drowsy dreamy summertime with the creeping claustrophobic intensity of coming change would have been distorted. In short it’s perfectly crafted and whilst I want more of Twig’s world , I am equally satisfied and know it is right to leave it there.
my brother was different and the owls knew it. They trusted him and maybe because of that, they had begun to trust me.
Hoffman writes as if these magical happenings or powers are completely natural, a sort of fablism or to use the controversial term magical realism, it really makes you believe that this is a part of OUR world, not us stepping into the realms of imagination. I felt like this when reading of the Owens family and again of the world of Twig Fowler in Nightbird, and even more glorious is how it’s for young readers.
Technically this is labelled Young Adult but it is far more innocent and sweet, to my mind it is upper middle grade as the ‘romance’ is sweetly pure, pretty much holding hands and hoping. This is compounded by being told from the perspective of a 12 year old girl observing the blossoming love of others as her own heart opens to friendship and a maturing relationship with her mother, but equally could be read with sighs of joy by the tender hearted teen who dreams of a sweet love like kindred spirits Agate and James.
There’s a slight To Kill a mockingbird feel in the narration by the lonely and young-for-her-years Twig, reflecting in a nostalgic affection of the quirks of townspeople and of an loss of innocence as the world changes when the clamours for a monster Hunt rise, but its far more Stars Hollow than Maycomb County, and those who enjoyed the New England small town setting of Gilmore Girls, then you will enjoy Nightbird.
Fans of the southern set Twister by Juliette Forrest will take New Englander Twig into their hearts for her childhood wonder at the natural world, fear of change biting against hunger for change and equal frustration at the limits that her life imposes. But this is a lighter book than Twister. Equally fans of Dashe Roberts’ Sticky Pines series will find something comforting in this book, ok, Twig isn’t as sharp nor has the gumption of Lucy, and Nightbird is not the glorious geekfest the Sticky Pines books are but there is a shared pain and longing within the two protagonists both for belonging and people to accept them just as they are in a fantastical forest community.
We were both shivering… I was afraid but Agate seemed enchanted. I looked at her and I knew that for the first time in all these years, despite the danger, despite the curse, my brother had allowed himself to be seen.
There’s a faery tale ‘classic’ feel of fablism to the book despite its modernity that is particularly expressed through the ‘guardians’ characters who admittedly seem to just know what Twig needs and when but isn’t that the magic of such tales?
- Miss Larch, the librarian and local historian, who from her tea collection can soothe a broken heart or unlock a secret choking your throat.
- Ian Rose the newly arrived journalist nephew of Miss Larch who pursues interaction with the Fowler family and encourages Twig to investigate the entwined family history of the Fowler’s and Early’s.
- And Dr Shelton the man with a dash of wild about him who seems to know the secrets of the special owls within the woods.
These guardians do not change Twig’s path but certainly tug the tapestry of the universe to help her uncover the truth whilst doing their own work behind the scenes to help save the woods, thus not being ‘useless’.
Overall, this book moved me, I devoured it in two great greedy gulps and know I would happily reread it over and over just to reimmerse in that world.
It’s an instant addition to my favourite books of all time and well worth seeking out.
Nightbird by Alice Hoffman is published in the UK by Simon & Schuster and in the US by Wendy Lamb (Random House)