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Nightbird

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Nightbird Book Poster Image
Tween pals, family curse, romance in sweet, dreamy tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Though Nightbird is a fantasy tale, American Revolutionary War history plays a role, especially focusing on the fact that well-meaning people can get swept up in events beyond their control. Johnny Appleseed is said to be responsible for the trees whose apples Twig's mom makes into pies. An elderly neighbor introduces Twig to literature, including Emily Dickinson.

Positive Messages

Family bonds, friendship, and true love overcome darker forces and make the world better. People can learn to see past superficial appearances and reach a better understanding of other people and the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Twig doesn't always do as she's told, exactly -- for example, she stays friends with Julia even though her mom forbids her to have anything to do with Julia's family. But with her kind heart and independent spirit, she's determined to do the right thing and help her loved ones. She's a good friend and a good sister, as well as a good neighbor. A long-lost friend from Twig's childhood reappears, and the bond between them grows stronger. As a romantic hero, Twig's brother James is hard to beat; he's not only brilliant, athletic, good-looking, and kind, he's also tragically misunderstood because he was born with wings. Their parents, including their mysterious, absent father, are strongly driven by their love for their children and desire to do what's best for them.

Violence

James is in danger for much of the story because townspeople are out to kill the mysterious monster who's been stealing odd items and leaving graffiti around town (it's unclear whether James is responsible). A colony of owls is threatened by a proposed development project.

Sex

Innocent teenage love, with an occasional kiss and a lot of soulful gazing.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nightbird, best-selling author Alice Hoffman's first tween novel, has a sweet, dreamlike quality and promotes strong bonds between friends and family. There's innocent teen romance and magic galore, from a centuries-old family curse to the dangers facing its current victim. Characters are determined to right past wrongs and create a happier, safer world for their loved ones, especially the star-crossed teens who fall in love at first sight. Young characters sometimes disobey their parents and sneak off on adventures, but their motives are pure and they usually manage to do some good as they look for ways to lift the curse.

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Teresa Anne (Twig) Fowler and her mom live alone in the woods near the quaint town of Sidbury, Massachusetts -- or so the townsfolk think. In fact, their attic holds a family secret: James, Twig's older brother, the latest victim of a centuries-old curse. Twig has felt lonely and isolated for years, but everything changes when a new family moves into a long-abandoned cottage nearby. Twig and the younger daughter, Julia, immediately become friends -- but then Twig's mom tells her they can't see each other anymore, because it was Julia's ancestor who put the curse on Twig's family. Things take a dramatic turn when Julia's older sister and James fall in love at first sight. Meanwhile, a developer wants to raze the town's forest, and a mysterious "monster" is stealing odd objects and leaving strange graffiti around the community.

Is it any good?

A cynic will note that quite a few things in NIGHTBIRD happen awfully conveniently -- but hey, it's magic, after all. The story and characters are charming, and many a tween reader will swoon over winged James, beautiful Agate, and their curse-defying love. Best-selling author Hoffman's vivid, economical narrative captures one of those moments in time when everything changes -- including the characters' emotional states as they live through it:

"James turned and Julia saw him for who he was. He seemed like he'd walked out of the pages of a fairy tale, a mythical creature who might carry her sister into the skies and never return.

"Julia rushed at him.

" 'Leave my sister alone!' "

" 'We're just sitting here,' James assured her. 'Or we were.' "

"Agate came between them. She looped her arms around Julia. 'Please be on our side.' There were bright tears in her eyes. 'We'll have enough people who will be against us.' "

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about family curses and why they're such a popular theme. Why do you think people put curses on each other in the first place?

  • Which other stories do you know about young lovers who can't be together because of their feuding families? How did they turn out?

  • What do you know about Johnny Appleseed? Do you think his work matters in our lives today?

Book details

  • Author: Alice Hoffman
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb
  • Publication date: March 10, 2015
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 18
  • Number of pages: 208
  • Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

For kids who love magic and romance

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