Feather Boy

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Feather Boy Book Poster Image
Poignant search for the truth about a boy's death.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Robert deceives his mother and engages in some dangerous behavior.

Violence
Sex
Language

One four letter word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that among so much to think about and discuss here is a rarity in children's literature: an intelligent, talented, and complex bully.

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What's the story?

Robert is the shrimpy kid with glasses who gets picked on at school. Niker, who gave him his nickname, Norbert No-Bottle, is his primary tormentor. When their class goes to an old folks' home as a class project, Robert is stuck with horrible old Edith Sorrel, whom no one likes. At their first meeting she tells him to go to Chance House, which turns out to be an old abandoned house where a boy supposedly jumped to his death from the third floor window some thirty years before.

Niker, trying to impress a girl, challenges Robert to join him in spending the night in the room from which the boy is supposed to have jumped. But this night is just the beginning of a journey that makes Robert sit up and really notice everyone and everything around him -- including the magic, and the truth, that both may be hiding in Chance House.

Is it any good?

Many adult authors have more trouble with their first children's books than they expected, but Singer nails it the first time out. She carefully and discreetly lays all the pieces in place for a hugely emotional climax, and weaves just a hint of magic throughout. All the characters -- Robert, his mother, Edith, her husband Ernest, and others -- are fascinating and complex, but none more so than Niker, who is not your average bully.

This sort of lovely, lyrical, deeply moving, vaguely magical character study is becoming quite a specialty of the Brits: David Almond, Tim Bowler, Peter Dickinson, and others have written books with a similar tone. The BBC has even turned this book into a TV series. Though it's certainly not aimed at action-adventure buffs, even some of them will be captivated by the mystery and gentle suspense.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Niker and whether the bully part of his personality trumps his positive qualities. Why does Niker pick on Robert? Why are bullies so often stereotyped in books and movies?

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