Sometimes we here that YA fiction is too dark. It happens a lot, in fact – but what a lot of people never stop to think about is, maybe some young adults want to read some dark, messed up books. I know I do! Birdy is a book pitched as so awful, so horrible, that you need to complete a quiz on Vallance’s website to see if you’re just a horrible enough person to give it a read (I actually didn’t pass the quiz, but I read it anyway ‘cuz I know I’m strong enough).
Frances Bird is a girl who spends most of her time alone. She’s not lonely, she just isn’t very good at making friends, and at home her grandmother is pretty controlling. When she’s asked by her teacher to show a new student around the school, Frances can’t think of anything she’d be worse at doing. But she soon forms a very fast friendship with Alberta, the new girl. She’s posh and naïve and quite a bit impulsive, and not like Frances at all, but somehow the two of them become inseparable. So why exactly has Alberta moved moved to a new school so abruptly? What about her past is she hiding? Frances is obsessed with her new best friend’s hidden past, and with her impulsive nature, who knows what secrets she might hold?
Birdy is a serious knotted pit of snakes. Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, something new from nowhere leaps across and bites you in the hand, leading to a slow agonising death from snake venom. Wait. No not that. Well sort of that. Frances is a wonderfully unreliable narrator, her slow piecing together of her friend’s hidden past is sporadic, and as she becomes more upset about it, it begins to distort in our minds through her eyes. Berta is a wonderful blur of chaos, being completely unaware of the world around her and so wide-eyed in her desire to experience everything. She’s fantastically flighty, and the way she helps to develop Frances’ character is brilliant, bringing her out of her shell and helping her to embrace the world (albeit with her trademark dry wit). Frances’ grandparents are both painfully dark sides to her private life, her grandmother controlling and suffocating, and her grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s, creates a need for her to latch onto her new found identity as Bert’s best friend Birdy. It becomes Frances’ obsession.
The way Jess writes is dark, twisting and punchy – each chapter is short and packed with menace and mystery, and the turns in the story crop up so often that it’s dizzying to read. Part of that comes from Frances’ obsessive personality, and partly from Alberta’s impulsive behaviour – Birdy really is a character driven novel told in a warped narrative. I felt utterly captivated by the way it built and built, each chapter upping the tension and the suspense until each word felt powerful, filled with the potential to up end the whole story and send the characters tumbling into darkness. Birdy is a short, wonderfully chaotic novel of obsession, secrets and friendship. It’s like Robin Stevens meets American Pyscho.
Hey, thanks for reading. That was nice of you.