Sunday, March 16, 2014

Byrd by Kim Church

Byrd is a quiet book that evokes timeless feelings about ordinary people, isolation, and identity while presenting an original take on a bookish young woman’s growth.  Addie Lockwood is a reader and Roland Rhodes is not.  Growing up together in a small North Carolina town in the 1970s, Roland is Addie’s first love.  They meet again in their thirties when a lonely and somewhat isolated Addie visits Roland in California.  When Addie has a baby and gives it up to adoption she doesn’t tell Roland who assumes she’s had the abortion that he’d encouraged. But who is Addie and why exactly does she give up the baby?  That and more is revealed in a series of letters Addie writes to her son, the boy she calls Byrd, the baby she’s given away so he can soar. Because the book is written in the third person, we see Addie both as she sees herself and as the universal “Addie” we might be in letters like this one:

Dear Byrd,
What’s your name now, I wonder.  Not Blake, I hope, or Blair, or Smitty. Please, not Smitty. 
I can guess what you’re thinking: what mother would name her child Byrd?
But I knew the name wouldn’t follow you.  Which is partly why I chose it – I wanted a name no one else would ever call you. One thing about you that would be mine.

Debut author Kim Church peppers this novel with pithy, short-sentence gems that help the reader get to know each character well:

About Addie herself: “Addie believes in books. They are more interesting than real life and easier to understand.  Sometimes you can guess the ending. Things usually work out, and if they don’t you can always tell yourself it was only a book.” 

Addie won silver dollars in first grade for every 25 books she read.  She collected enough silver dollars to fill a peanut butter jar. “It makes her feel rich and important, like someone you might read about in a book.”

About Addie’s mother: “Addie’s mother works at the Carousel Shoppe selling expensive girls’ dresses to mothers who don’t have to work.”

About Addie’s brother: “Sam is four years younger than Addie, with eyes gray as nickels and hair so short you can’t tell what color it is.”

About Addie’s father: Addie’s father drinks.  A lot.

About Addie’s teen years: “High School.  Girls huddle in the hall talking in whispers . . . they wear makeup.  . . Boys love and fear them . . . Addie sometimes wishes she were one of them. She wishes she were one of anything.

When she writes, the rest of the world disappears.”

When Addie goes away to college, her brother Sam writes her:
Dear Addie, this time he fell in the street and Mr. Davenport had to help us bring him in.
Dear Addie, when are you coming home?
Dear Addie, I can’t wait to be the one who leaves.

Addie’s letters made this reader “know” her and her family and friends by depicting them as commonplace people much as Emily in the play “Our Town” offered a true portrait of the family she left behind as seen when she returned to earth for a day.  Addie, too, looks back and states her philosophy:

Dear Byrd,
I have learned that it’s possible to become satisfied with your life too soon.

One joy of this book is that as Addie matures and steps out of her isolation and her satisfaction with a half-lived life, the reader gets to step into that growth with her. Addie’s love for the child she gave up grows to include a world she was previously afraid of exploring.

This novel fits my Gourmet category because it proves that nothing is more gourmet than one perfect raspberry and Church’s simple, yet not simplistic, sentences are like perfect raspberries – small, yet filled with delight. It also fits the Grandma’s Pot Roast category because Addie is a character who will stick with you and satisfy you just as the curry stew she prepares will bring nourishment to those she loves.

Summing it Up: Devour this book because it shows how loneliness can be overcome if you live with hope but without expectations. Select it because you love books and books with a book-loving main character are like enjoying an all-day sucker in your favorite flavor. Read it for the richness and joy that leap off the final pages. Choose it for your book club; it’s an original paperback so all can buy it or download it the day it comes out. If your book club reads debut novels - and they should - this would be a good choice with much to discuss.

P.S. I rarely comment on book covers but this one is special. The striking title font and the solid bird perched on a leafless tree pull the reader into a story that shows how a child can rise like a bird and impact those left behind. Designer ilsa Brink deserves an award for capturing the book’s essence.

Rating:  5 stars

Category: Fiction, 5 Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast/Gourmet, Book Club

Publication date: March 18, 2014

What Others are Saying:

“Brilliant writing – lively and heartbreaking at every turn.”  - Jill McCorkle, New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life and winner of the Dos Passos Prize.

“A riveting debut.  Kim Church is a very talented writer.”  - Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena and The Cove

“Addie is a particular woman—a character that will linger and grow beloved—but she could also be your sister, your roommate from college, a friend in the neighborhood. She’s still struggling in her thirties to make sense of old loves and loss that keeps cycling back into her life. A successful woman in the world, her heart remains in flux until love that can’t be budged finally takes root in her. Kim Church has imagined a world of good people missing the mark as good people sometimes do. They’re familiar, a comfort. I will never forget the impact of the final pages.” – Patricia Henley, National Book Award finalist and author of Hummingbird House

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