From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–An open-ended, interconnected narrative in three voices. Bird, 13, has run away from Cleveland to rural Alabama, trying to find her stepfather, Cecil, and bring him home. Ethan, who turns out to be Cecil's nephew, is adjusting to the freedom that a heart transplant affords him. Jay is grieving for his brother, whose death provided the necessary heart. Bird hides out in a shed on Ethan's family's farm, convinced that Cecil will come because she'd seen Ethan in the man's photographs. She soon gets lonely. Conveniently, Ethan, who has been socially isolated by his illness, is anxious to befriend her. Jay knows about Ethan, but cannot bring himself to approach the younger boy. Persuaded by his best friend to "borrow" an elderly neighbor's car, Jay winds up under house arrest, but sneaks out and encounters Bird himself. The owner of the stolen car, Mrs. Pritchard, offers Bird refuge at her house, providing her comfort through good food and a patient, nonjudgmental ear. Johnson reveals the inner thoughts of these characters, as they move around one another, occasionally touching, but preoccupied with their individual problems. Readers see how small kindnesses can ease the grip of grief and how large gestures–the literal giving of a heart–can redound to the giver's credit. Much is left unresolved by the conclusion of the book, but the many truths about human emotion and interaction are exposed for readers' examination.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
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Gr. 6-10. "I thought it was enough that I had to lose two fathers before I'm even a teenager." At 13, Bird runs south from Ohio, searching for the stepfather that left her family. Ethan, a boy with a fragile heart, knows Bird is hiding on his family farm, but he doesn't know why. Ethan's neighbor Jay is still in shock over the recent death of his beloved younger brother. Alternating between these three young voices, Johnson tells a poignant, lyrical story about children struggling to overcome nearly irreparable heartbreak. Some of the connections between characters seem stretched, particularly the links made through the extraordinary kindness of aging Mrs. Pritchard, who knows just what to ask and when. But Johnson writes with a poet's knowledge of rhythm and knows how to use the space between words; the disconnect between what the boys think and what they say is especially well done. Johnson also creates a visceral sense of each character's search for love and connection, particularly Bird's deep loneliness and her longing for parents who aren't there. Gillian Engberg
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