“Birdy” by Jess Vallance

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I feel like a proper book blogger now! And why? Birdy was the first review copy of a book that I actually asked for. I didn’t win it, I asked for this book and received it, based on the fact that I will now review it for all of my lovely followers out there in the blogosphere. All thanks to Hot Key Books!

I need to start this off by saying that my copy of Birdy came with a synopsis that differed from the blurb. And as such, the big twist in this book? It was kind of ruined for me. However, it was interesting to see how Vallance dropped in all of the details in preparation for the big reveal.

Birdy follows the story of Frances Bird, a fifteen-year-old loner from a fairly broken family. Frances’ alcoholic mother committed suicide when she was just a baby and was therefore raised by her incredible strict grandmother and her grandfather who, by all accounts, is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Frances has never really had friends. Until, one day, she is asked to escort the new girl, Alberta Fitzroy-Black, around their school to show Alberta (Bert) the ropes. And voila! Frances has a friend.

I think the fact that I already pretty much knew what was going to happen shaped the way I read this story. I would read scenes and work out how they would fit into the “twist”. If I hadn’t read the alternate synopsis, Birdy would have been a story about a loner trying to help her new friend navigate the rough terrain of high school, exposing a few home truths along the way. However, the story I read was much darker.

Funny, how insight can change the way you read a book. I suppose it’s the same feeling as going back to read the first book in a series after reading the last book. You pick up on details that you may have missed the first time round.

The brilliant thing about Birdy is how mundane the plot seems. Weird, right? Vallance somehow made this story seem like two teenagers just trying to make it through high school, albeit with a few darker subplots. But there were all of these little pockets of darkness that marred the seemingly innocuous story. It was a nice touch, but the banality of the story did make it hard to keep reading at times. If I wanted to hear teenagers bitch about how much better everyone else has it compared to them, I’d go back and read my diaries from high school.

The language is fairly basic, compared to some YA I’ve read (I’m looking at you, Ms Cassandra Clare, you brilliant woman), but Vallance does dialogue very well. Every single character had a distinct voice, which is a rarer trait in YA than it should be.A lot of authors struggle with the concept that readers need more than an “>insert character name here< said” at the end of a phrase to make conversations believable (I’m looking at you, Ms Veronica Roth. Tris and Four were completely different people! So why did they sound the same?).

Some of the passages in Birdy made me feel physically ill. One of Bert’s past relationships was so messed up that reading about it make me want to throw up. Causing such discomfort in the written word is a feat in and of itself, but after closing the book, I have to wonder whether it was Vallance’s writing that caused my reaction or whether it was the subject matter. I can’t make up my mind whether Vallance added this subplot to shock us, which is essentially a cop-out seeing as good writers can shock their audience without having to resort to societal taboos, or whether Vallance did it to make a point about relationships. And as such, I don’t know whether I admire Vallance for this, or condemn her for it.

If you enjoy the bleaker side of YA, then Birdy is for you. Especially with that ending. Oh, that ending. However, if you’re like me and prefer your stories a little lighter, with patches of darkness as opposed to an all-over gloom, then maybe keep looking.

★★★

 

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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2 Responses to “Birdy” by Jess Vallance

  1. Deborah says:

    Thanks for sharing this one Bec. I hadn’t heard of it though YA isn’t usually a genre I read much. It’s annoying isn’t it when the blurbs differ or when TOO much is given away. I was reviewing something recently and decided I needed to keep this fact from readers… but then noted it was on the back cover!

    • Bec Graham says:

      I think it’s because the blurb is written by a publisher, not the author. It’s supposed to draw people in, and so they go for splashy, rather than accurate.
      In a lot of my favourite series, the initial twist is revealed on the back. I hate that.
      And no worries. Some YA is brilliant. Some of it just plain sucks 🙂 the book I’m reading at the moment is great!

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