by Esther Ehrlich
* * * * Stars (Great!)
Tween (Grades 5-8)
* * * SPOILER ALERT! * * *
Eleven year old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein is an avid birdwatcher growing up with her older sister in the early 1970s on Cape Cod. The Orensteins’ lives are forever changed when Chirp’s mother is diagnosed with MS (multiple-sclerosis). Mom – a dancer – sinks into a deep depression when her body will no longer cooperate, and has to be hospitalized for depression. Both girls and their father miss her terribly, and when she returns – after receiving several rounds of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) she’s a little better, but not the same. There’s nothing anyone can do when mom walks out of the house one morning and drowns herself. The grief is too much for Chirp, who can’t figure out how to deal with it and runs away with Joey, the neighbor boy (who has his own problems – an abusive father), to Boston to find some trace of her mother and the happiness they once had.
The death (and over more, suicide) of a parent is a difficult topic and Esther Ehrlich handles it beautifully through Chirp’s observant and sensitive eyes. And while the death of her mother leaves the whole family reeling, there is some hope that they will find solace and comfort in one another’s love in the end. Add this to the growing body of excellent realistic fiction for young people that deals with tough subjects.