The Story: [From GoodReads:]
When their parents disappear in the middle of the night, young sisters Summer and Bird set off on a quest to find them. A cryptic picture message from their mother leads them to a familiar gate in the woods, but comfortable sights quickly give way to a new world entirely—Down—one inhabited by talking birds and the evil Puppeteer queen. Summer and Bird are quickly separated, and their divided hearts lead them each in a very different direction in the quest to find their parents, vanquish the Puppeteer, lead the birds back to their Green Home, and discover the identity of the true bird queen.
That’s seriously all I have to say about this book, though I’m not known for short reviews, so of course I’m going to elaborate. 🙂
But honestly that’s the best and most concise way I can sum up my feelings – wow.
Summer and Bird is one of these hushed, gentle stories that, despite not offering up a whizz bang plot full of mind-bending action, it still draws you in with magical language, eerie surreal landscapes, and heart-rendering characters. I loved this novel from start to finish as it has a lot of working parts writing-wise, plot-wise, and even theme-wise but it never feels bogged down or that it’s trying to bite off more than it can chew. Instead, much like it’s cover, this novel is understated yet elegant; and its story is delivered with a delicate hand that gently draws you in but firmly commands your attention.
As a whole, this is a gorgeous, hushed, gently dark tale that perfectly blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy. At times, it feels like this story is set in the real world yet it clearly isn’t, so my best description for this type of tale would be magical realism as it’s akin to a darker, more subdued Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To its credit, Summer and Bird never feels like a fantasy novel that casts too large of a world-building net. The sundry realms and realms-within-realms we’re introduced to all feel like they could be perfectly plausible and work for the story instead of against it as the setting doesn’t take precedence over the plot or its characters.
Speaking of story, the plot remains fairly basic regarding its skeleton but deep down it’s anything but typical. We’re first introduced to two sisters, Summer and Bird, who discover one day that their mother and father have gone missing. Going against every instinct they know and following cryptic clues left by their mother, the girls venture into a foreboding forest that rests at the edge of their property. Knowing their parents are sure to be in danger here, the girls press on despite their fears and encounter a realm within a realm they never thought possible.
However, this isn’t a loose retelling of Hansel and Gretel nor is it a generic quest story where the parents are made into a McGuffin with no real bearing on the plot. Instead, Summer and Bird end up being pulled their own separate ways and engage two very different story paths that lead them further away from, not only their parents, but also each other. Each path and world each sister travels down and visits are uniquely designed for her, taking into account her talents, feelings, and fears. While I suppose one could call this a coming-of-age tale, it’s more along the lines of a subtle story about growing up in the vein of (again) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book as it avoids the cliched situations and stock characters one usually sees in coming-of-age stories.
Among other themes this novel covertly addresses is temptation, which emerges front and center as the story progresses yet it’s never addressed in a preachy, tactless manner. Both sisters find themselves tempted in their own way, playing upon personal insecurities and fears, which leads them astray. In the same way, the chief antagonist, the Puppeteer queen, serves as a great metaphor for how sin can quietly take over people’s lives and enslave them unawares, not to mention that temptation is not a one-size-fits-all matter. It’s a hefty topic that doesn’t feel glossed over or trivialized as both Summer and Bird sincerely struggle both without and within. I really don’t want to say anything further as it ventures into spoiler territory, and this novel is worth not being spoiled for.
I will say that this book’s best element is the relationship between Summer and Bird, which plucks at the heartstrings in a non-saccharine way. Their bond is stretched and strained, and part of the story’s suspense comes from wondering if it will actually break. While Summer and Bird are not cardboard cutouts to serve as the picture perfect sister combo, they aren’t despicable people and you hope against hope that they will not desert the other and will do anything to be reunited as they truly are stronger together than apart. While this novel certainly qualifies as a darker-themed fairy tale, it’s dark more in terms of its somber mood as opposed to being depressing or frightening. But the tone fits the plot and causes the ending to be truly worth the journey.
Content: This is a clean book as it contains little to no profanity, no graphic violence, and no sexual content. However, due to its tone and some of the story’s elements and characters (as well as the presence of some mild fantasy violence and scenes of peril), I’d recommend this more for the older middle grade crowd and up as opposed to anyone younger. (I suspect younger readers probably wouldn’t be interested in this novel anyway unless they are mature for their age.)
Overall, I loved this book as it’s both engrossing and genuinely emotional. In a sub-genre that’s rife with cliches and been there-done that plotting, Summer and Bird comes a breath of fresh air. If you enter into this book expecting a fun, fast read, you’re going to walk away disappointed as this novel commands every ounce of your attention as well as your emotions. But if you’re eager to sink your reading teeth into something substantial, then make sure to not pass by Summer and Bird.