Happy MMGM, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm reviewing Nightbird by Alice Hoffman. I've been long familiar with her adult works, but wasn't sure how the magic of her magical realism would translate into middle grade fiction.
Well, it's just as wonderful as I would thought. In a brief 200-something pages, Hoffman tells a wonderful tale about friends, families and curses that is pure magic.
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Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books (first published March 5th 2015)
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.
Hoffman introduces us to twelve-year-old Twig (Teresa) Folwer, a young girl who has spent most of her life isolated from others in the small town of Sidwel, because of the family curse. Generations ago, a witch placed a curse on the Fowler family, so all of the men would be born with wings.
But things begin to change for Twig and her cursed older brother James, when the Hall sisters move in next door. After Twig tentatively extends the hand of friendship to Julia and Agate, they begin to learn that long-held beliefs and susperstitions are not necessarily what they seem to be. It's now up to the four of them, to try and rectify past misunderstandings, in the hope of a better future.
Much like the small Massachusetts town of Practical Magic, readers can't help but be pulled into Sidwell and Twig's world. As Twig shares the loneliness and isolation of her day-to-day life, and the knowledge of having a brother whom she fears would be considered a monster by other town residents, Hoffman shows how sometimes, one tiny action can change an entire destiny.
In this case, that action is the friendship which is formed between Twig, Julia and Agate. Even though Twig's mom make it clear at the start of the novel that she's reluctant to engage with the two sisters because of the nature of the curse, Twig finds the bravery to soldify the friendship. Through this, Hoffman subtly introduces the idea that we can't always take things at face value, a reminder that arises again when we learn the entirety of the circumstances behind the curse.
As the story progresses, Hoffman also stresses the importance of coming to terms with who you are, and what you can offer the world. James has spent his life being hidden away because of his wings. While he's built an extraordinary life based on his unique abilities - I loved his relationship with the birds - we can't help but recognize that it's also a life of isolation. He wants many of the things that Twig wants, including a life of pursuing normal relationships and normal things, like love. This is also echoed in the town's dealings with a mysterious monster, with the reveal turning out to hit a little closer to home than anticipated.
Ultimately, Hoffman reminds us that it's always possible to balance two very different lives, as the main characters join together to help end the curse once and for all. In the final pages of the book, there's a touch of the magic from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Hoffman's own works, culminating in an ending that will satisfy all readers.
Even though they're fictional, I have no doubt that many a reader will close Nightbird, with a smile on their face and joy in their heart, as they think about Twig and the residents of Sidwell happily living out their lives. I highly recommend this book for all middle grade fiction fans. You'll love this book.
About the author:
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty bestselling works of fiction, including Practical Magic, a major motion picture; Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club selection; the highly praised historical novel The Dovekeepers; and, most recently, The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Her books for teens include Green Angel, Green Witch, Incantation, The Fortelling, and Aquamarine, also a major motion picture, starring Emma Roberts. Visit her online at alicehoffman.com.