Book: Three Bird Summer
Author: Sara St. Antoine
Age Range: 10 to 14
Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine is a lovely book about the summer that a 12 year old boy spends at his grandmother's cabin on Three Bird Lake in Minnesota. It's a quiet sort of book about an introspective kid, but St. Antoine manages to touch upon the challenges families face as grandparents age, the aftermath of divorce, and the tentative first steps of boy-girl relationships. There's also a small mystery, and even a treasure map. It's a coming-of-age story, though without major drama.
In truth, the subject matter of Three Bird Summer felt a bit ... familiar, with echoes of Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance and Karen Day's A Million Miles from Boston, and even Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Summer stories all, featuring kids of a similar age range. But the sheer beauty of St. Antoine's writing, as well as her choice to feature a male protagonist, make Three Bird Summer stand out.
Adam is a fine narrator, a little geeky, a little lazy, and baffled by the behavior of girls. His initially reluctant friendship with new neighbor Alice, and the oh-so-gradual dawning of "more than friend" feelings, is utterly believable. Alice and her parents are, perhaps, a tiny bit too good to be true, but I love that she spent the previous summer at a science camp for girls, and that she chafes under the yoke of her over-protective parents. Adam's mother and grandmother are well-drawn, too, with flaws as well as surprises.
Three Bird Summer perfectly captures the feel of a rustic summer lake house. Like this:
"Mom lingered in the kitchen while I hauled my duffel through the main part of the cabin, breathing in the familiar smell of wood paneling and fireplace cinders. Everything was in its usual place." (Page 10)
"A cool breeze crossed the water. It felt like the great North was barreling through me with my every breath. Here's what slipped away: schedules, bus rides, the stale smell of the school cafeteria, algebraic equations, Mom and Dad's phone arguments, girl talk, and Grandma's interrogations. Here's what I got in exchange: water sloshing slowly and steadily against the dock like the heartbeat of a great whale. A pair of black-and-white loons swimming into view. Fresh air and a lake that, right then, felt like it was all mine." (Page 16)
Reading the above passage, I could practically feel the tension leaving Adam's shoulders. Three Bird Summer is filled with passages that I wanted to save, long and short. Like this:
"Mom turned around and we began paddling again, but not in a getting-there sort of way -- more like a being-there sort of way." (Page 199)
For the rest, you'll have to read the book. Three Bird Summer is a book to read on your front porch on a warm summer day (or, even better, on a dock floating in a lake in your bathing suit). It's about growing up, the ways that family relationships change, and young love. It's beautifully written, with a strong sense of place, and well-rounded characters. While Three Bird Summer is clearly a book that will appeal to adult readers, I hope that kids find it and love it, too. Despite the male protagonist, Three Bird Summer certainly has as much appeal for girls as for boys. Recommended!
Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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