Birdspell by Valerie Sherrard

Don’t let the whimsical David Jardine cover art of Birdspell fool you into thinking this is one of Ms. Sherrard’s “fun” YA novels like The Rise and Fall of Derek Cowell or Random Acts. No, Birdspell is more like The Glory Wind or Driftwood in that it deals with a mature subject wrapped in a young reader novel. (As you can see, The Miramichi Reader has reviewed quite a few of Ms. Sherrard’s novels over the years.) Her writing excels at being relevant to issues that face young people and Birdspell is no exception as it deals with a Grade-sixer named Corbin Hayes that must deal with his mother’s uncontrolled bipolar disorder.

Some may recall watching the TV show ER back in the day and Sally Fields portrayed the bipolar mother of one of the regular characters. As she is such a great actor, she mimicked so well the ups and downs of someone who didn’t stay on her meds, much like Corbin’s mother Rhea in Birdspell. Corbin has lived with his mother’s issues so long that he is independent by necessity. His mother finds jobs, then gets fired. With no income, they eventually get evicted and they have to move. Corbin prefers to remain friendless and detached due to such an itinerant lifestyle.

One day, a schoolmate, Izelle, offers Corbin her pet parakeet Sitta, which she can no longer keep at home due to allergy concerns. Corbin jumps at the opportunity of having a pet, and a bird seems like a good choice for how they live, a “minimalist” lifestyle, as he tells people. It makes it easier to move when you have no furniture. Sitta soon becomes his confidante as Corbin is reluctant to tell anyone anything about his life.

"It won't last forever. It could be days, or it could be a lot longer, but eventually, she'll come out of it. Then she's okay for a while. Usually a few months. Once it was longer when she stayed on her meds. But it always starts over. "It doesn't have to affect you though, buddy, I added quickly. 
"Call!" said Sitta. "Who? Who?" 
He was right. There was no one to call. "So if I seem distracted now and then," I explained, "it's just that I'm always on edge, waiting. Whatever's happening at the moment? It never lasts. That makes it hard to relax and enjoy it when things are good." 
Sitta gnawed a bit at the feathers on his left side. 
"I hate it," I said. 
Sitta cocked his head at my angry tone. I won't say he looked shocked exactly, but there was puzzlement in the way his face was tilted. 
"Don't get me wrong. I love my mother, but it's hard, the way life is with her. And I try to protect her, but there's only so much I can do, or hide. I know, for example, that old Mr. Zinbendal across the hall has been hearing things. And that old geezer has troublemaker written all over him."  
Sitta dropped an oystery splotch on the cushion and flew back down the hall.

Eventually, the longer they stay at their present address, the more Corbin feels grounded enough to make some tentative steps towards friendships with Izelle, Mr. Zinbendal and Taylor, a young girl he babysits for in his building to make a few extra dollars. Things seem to be going well when Rhea crashes hard and requires hospitalization for an extended period in the Psych ward. How will Corbin fare now?

An extremely good middle-grader read, Birdspell truly had me engrossed from page one. A serious mental health issue, a single-parent household and a young boy called upon to live by his wits during his mother’s ups and downs, there is no shortage of drama in Corbin’s life. Commendably, there are no profanities or adult situations in Birdspell. A highly recommended read for middle-graders on up.

About the Author:

Valerie Sherrard is an award-winning author of picture books and young adult novels. Her novel The Glory Wind won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction and the Ann Connor Brimer Award. Her works have been chosen as Red Maple and White Pine Award Honour Books and she has been nominated for the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award and Snow Willow Award. Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, she now lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ DCB (March 13 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 232 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770866132
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770866133
Owner/Editor-in-Chief at -- Website

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their tabby cat.

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