Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review - "Summer and Bird"

Fairy tales survive because they are a part of us.  There are coded into our DNA, and all around the world, we find ourselves telling the same stories, over and over.  A good fairy tale is also familiar to us.  We know it in our bones, even if we’ve never heard it before.  Katherine Catmull’s debut novel, Summer and Bird, if full of familiar fairy tale tropes, but when put all together, is wholly unique.

Summer and Bird are sisters, living in a house next to a stream by the woods.  One morning, they wake up to find their parents are gone.  A picture letter left by their mother leads them into the woods where they are soon separated.  Summer now feels she must find both her sister and her parents, while Bird has disappeared on a journey of her own self-discovery.  The girls confront the mysteries of the forest, the vagaries of the birds and the secret their parents have kept for so long.  Summer must learn to be a leader and a follower, and Bird finds herself in the thrall of the evil Puppeteer, who wants nothing more than to be Queen of the birds.  Can the girls find each other, help each other and save their lost father and captured mother before it’s too late?

Summer and Bird is not what I would call an easy read.  It takes concentration and commitment.  Catmull sometimes lets her language and style get away from her and it doesn’t always serve the story (too many sentence fragments for my taste).  But when you look at the skeleton of the story, it’s really quite remarkable.  Catmull has taken features we all know (changelings and enchanted queens, etc) and made from them something new and curious.  There are wonderful fantasy elements at play here: spirit birds, a World Tree, a villain who eats birds whole.  Catmull’s world building is top notch.

While I think this is easily identified as a first novel (wrangle in your flowery language!), it is a beautiful one, and one that I can readily see becoming a fairy tale classic years down the road, like Ella Enchanted, which also bent a few rules in its path to greatness.

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull
2012, Dutton Juvenile
Advance copy sent from publisher for review

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