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The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph Book Poster Image
Timeless novel about first love and family solidarity.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The story centers on personal and family events, rooted in the setting of their own social circles. Readerswill learn something about recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous, and asexual identity.

Positive Messages

All of us make mistakes; change, redemption, and forgiveness are possible.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The book is full of characters who defy stereotypes and serve as positive representations: There are two African American families who love on the north side of Chicago. The parents are doctors and entrepreneurs, and the children of these families are college-bound high achievers. There are a couple of gay boys in a healthy relationship. One boy identifies as on the asexual spectrum. There's  also a very positive and detailed depiction of what it means to be in recovery: Two characters who are AA members are shown turning to each other and to sponsors for support to avoid relapse in moments of crisis.

Violence

A boy goes to juvenile hall for punching a coach who taunts him. There's a detailed scene of the bloody altercation.

Sex

Loss of a teen girl's virginity is a major subplot, including an explicit sex scene when it happens. There's sensitive discussion of consent, being ready, safer sex, and birth control. An aunt takes a girl to Planned Parenthood for an exam and prescription, and they keep it a secret from the girl's parents. Teens have realistic and open discussions with adults and each other about sexuality. There are characters who have an extramarital affair. One boy identifies as asexual and a couple of boys have a same-sex romantic relationship. No sexual activity is shown, but one of the boys tells Birdie they "hooked up some." A group of teens attend the Pride parade, partially as a cover for the straight couple to meet up. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two adult characters are regular smokers. A main character is a recovering addict and a participant in AA. Scenes about her past are vividly described, including bringing an infant to a crack house. There are scenes where underage teens drink alcohol at parties to the point of tipsiness. Teens vape weed: One boy claims he does so medicinally for anxiety, but he shares it with friends.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brandy Colbert's The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a coming-of-age novel about a 16-year-old African American girl who loses her innocence over a very eventful summer. In the time between her sophomore and junior years in high school, Birdie falls in love, loses her virginity, learns a shocking family secret, experiments with alcohol, and defies her parents' orders and wishes for the first time. The loss of virginity is a major subplot; there are many heavy make-out scenes and an explicit scene when Birdie has intercourse with her boyfriend for the first time. There's also  discussion of an extramarital affair, and two boys are in a same-sex relationship. Underage teens drink alcohol to the point of tipsiness in a number of scenes. A couple of the adult characters are depicted as regular smokers. A teen boy vapes marijuana; he claims he does it to cure anxiety but shares it with other kids in social situations. Two characters are recovering addicts. There are flashbacks to "using," including bringing an infant to a crack house. The word "f--k" is used several times throughout the text. Colbert won a 2018 Stonewall Book Award for her 2017 novel Little & Lion

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What's the story?

When THE REVOLUTION OF BIRDIE RANDOLPH begins, Dove, nicknamed Birdie, arrives at her family's apartment to find that her aunt Carlene has come to stay for a while. She learns Carlene has a long history of substance abuse, but is now clean and sober, and participating in Alcoholics Anonymous. Meanwhile Birdie is falling in love with Booker, a teen with a very different class background and a troubled past, and she hides that information from her parents. Desire to be with Booker, her relationship with her aunt, and a family secret lead Birdie to break out of her lifelong role as the perfectly behaved daughter.

Is it any good?

This coming-of-age novel could become a classic and belongs in that rare company of books that capture what it feels like to be a teenager. Though some of the issues Birdie and her friends face in The Revolution of Birdie Randolph are contemporary (like vaping and asexuality), most are timeless: dating a boy your parents might not approve of, finding an aunt you can confide in about things you can't discuss with Mom, awakening to who your parents are as people, and the rocky path toward independence and adulthood. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sibling reationships in The Revolution of Birdie Rudolph. How are Carlene and Kitty able to resolve their past conflicts and forgive? How do Mimi and Birdie demonstrate their closeness?

  • What do you think of how drug and alcohol use and recovery from addiction are depicted in the story? Do they seem realistic? Why or why not?

  • How do Birdie's role models and confidants -- her parents, aunt, boyfriend, best friend, her mom's business partner, and even her doctor -- support different facets of her growth?

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For kids who love family stories and books that deal with consent

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