RARE BIRDS, by Jeff Miller, Union Square Kids, Jan. 31, 2023, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
A 12-year-old struggles to find his place in the world while his mom awaits a heart transplant in Rare Birds, a middle-grade novel by Jeff Miller.
Twelve-year-old Graham Dodds is no stranger to hospital waiting rooms. Sometimes, he feels like his entire life is one big waiting room. Waiting for the next doctor to tell them what’s wrong with his mom. Waiting to find out what city they’re moving to next. Waiting to see if they will finally get their miracle — a heart transplant to save his mom’s life.
When Graham gets stuck in Florida for the summer, he meets a girl named Lou at the hospital, and he finds a friend who needs a distraction as much as he does. She tells him about a contest to find the endangered Snail Kite, which resides in the local gator-filled swamps. Together they embark on an adventure, searching for the rare bird . . . and along the way, Graham might just find something else — himself. —Synopsis provided by Union Square Kids
Rare Birds is one of those gut punchingly beautiful reads that resonates long after finishing it.
Rare Birds isn’t exactly a happy book — Graham and Lou are both facing some pretty big problems — but there’s a brightness that runs through it that offers a sense of hope even when things are going wrong.
This comes, in part, because of the quality of author Jeff Miller’s writing. There’s an underlying warmth to it that feels familiar while the story itself is fresh.
Strength comes, too, in the form of Graham and Lou who are exceptionally realized. The two balance each other well and the exploration of their friendship is a delight.
With themes of family, friendship and what gives life meaning, Rare Birds is a book that should appeal to a large cross-section of readers. Its short chapters keep the story moving forward and could be a draw for readers who have shorter attention spans.
Inspired by Miller’s personal experience living through his own parent’s heart transplant, Rare Birds is an excellent read that would be great now or during the summer break.
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