From School Library Journal
Grade 7-10-Haunted by the death of his older brother, 14-year-old New York City-native Jed spends his winter break filming a documentary of his East Village neighborhood. Following clues left behind in Zeke's poetry journal, he finds himself going deep into his brother's psyche. The painful memories and emotions that surface bring Jed face-to-face with the destitute, homeless girl mentioned in one of the poems. Jed's efforts to reach out to her, and the ensuing near tragedy, galvanize his grieving parents into action and into recognizing his needs. Mack's expressively visual prose interspersed with fragments of candid poetry realistically captures the anger and frustration of a boy coping with the loss of a sibling and the possible disintegration of his family. Colorful, well-drawn characters add to the story's painful sense of realism. And while some readers may find it hard to balance Birdland's sophisticated style with its young protagonist, others will be drawn into Jed's unique and spontaneous East Village world of skateboards, sidewalk musicians, and coffee houses.
Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. "True healing," Jed's English teacher declaims, "begins with imagination." But Jed, displaying that bedrock realism with which teens so often see through the idealistic preenings of adults, isn't quite buying it: "So what if you imagine something to be healed. It's still the same broken thing, isn't it?" The beauty of this rigorously unsentimental novel about a family in crisis is the way that Mack, even as she lets her characters' imaginations soar, keeps her story grounded in the pain of broken things. Jed is the middle child in a family torn asunder by the death of Zeke, Jed's jazz-loving older brother. To fulfill an assignment for English class, Jed, with his friend, Flyer, sets out to videotape the sights and sounds of Lower East Side Manhattan, as recorded in Zeke's journals and poems. Along the way, Jed encounters a mysterious homeless girl who may hold the key to why Zeke died, if Jed can somehow unlock her secrets. This is hardly the first novel to use a teen's adventures with video as a metaphor for coming-of-age, but Mack, author of the acclaimed Drawing Lessons (2000), never lets the technology take over. Jed's family has shut down almost completely in the wake of Zeke's death--symbolized by Jed's psychosomatic speech impediment--but the camera lets the tongue-tied auteur see without speaking. Even when the talking starts, though, the words remain powerfully ambiguous, the healing poignantly attenuated. Bill Ott
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