Saturday, November 12, 2016

BIRDS IN THE AIR by Frances O'Roark Dowell

When I selected BIRDS IN THE AIR as my next read, it was because the book's press had
promoted it as a warm, a  humorous books about discovering the world of quilting and fitting into a new community.  Naturally this wanna-be quilter was attracted, especially when I saw recommendations from a favorite television quilter.  It was not until I was almost done with the book that I really looked at the author blurb (Sorry, Frances) and realized Frances O'Roark Dowell is a children/tween author, most widely known for her books DOVEY COE, THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS, and CHICKEN BOYS -- all books I "booktalked" and promoted when I was a school librarian.  So it should be no surprise that this awarding winning queen of exploring the ins and outs of friendships and not fitting in for the tween reader would see fertile ground for exploring the same themes in an adult book.

Emma Byrd, her husband and their two children have just moved to Sweet Anne's Gap, a small mountain town.  Excited to have escaped the stressful pace of suburbia, Emma is sure she will be able to start writing her long-awaited novel --except she has no idea what to write.  As the children attempt to settle into school, 10 year old Sarah experiences the pains of being the new girl with no friends.  When the queen bee of her grade receives word from her mom that she should have nothing to do with Sarah (reason for this is part of the novel's small town plot so I won't spoil it), it appears the quiet newcomer will remain on the outside for a long, long time.  As Emma considers how to help her daughter, she experiences her own immersion into small town culture.  A next door neighbor, obviously a recluse, closes the door on Emma, but the lady's granddaughter shows up at Emma's soon after and encourages Emma to explore the old trunks hidden in the attic.  There they find a fragile quilt and a mysterious photo of a young woman.  A trip to the quilt store helps Emma identify the quilt's age and pattern (civil war BIRDS IN THE AIR), but more than that, the trip brings about Emma's own attempt to quilt and an avenue to meet new people.  But all is not smooth.  Not everyone is ready to accept a newbie, especially someone who just might consider herself better than the mountain folk that surround Sweet Anne's Gap, and who just might be in possession of a valuable, stolen quilt!

The book was a really fast, entertaining read.  It was not until I started to write this review that I realized that there is a lot to think about in the themes of the book.  I commend O'Roark Dowell for entering the world of adult fiction and I felt laid the ground work for this story to continue in more books.  That said, I still wish this book had been a bit longer with more character development and depth.  I got the feeling that Emma was "colored in" but other characters never moved much beyond the pencil outline of who they were and how they affected the story.  I want to visit this town again, hear more of their stories, and perhaps watch Emma finally write her novel.  There are so many colors and layers the author could bring to Sweet Anne's Gap. I received an e-copy of this title from Netgalley.  All opinions are mine.

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