Birdie Lindberg is an 18-year-old girl living on Bainbridge Island, Washington, with her grandfather. Her grandmother died a few months earlier, her mother died about eight years earlier, and she never knew her father (who wasn’t married to her mother and uninterested in having a kid anyway). Her grandmother, fearing she might develop the wild child tendencies of her mother, home-schooled her and controlled her comings and goings, consequently leaving her a naive virgin who has never had a friendly or romantic relationship.
Birdie does have a wild child “aunt,” her mother’s best friend, who shows her another way to live. A few months after her grandmother’s death, Birdie lands her first job as a night clerk at an historic Seattle hotel. To celebrate she goes to a diner, strikes up a conversation with a Cute Young Guy, and has sex with him in the back seat of his car in an alley. Turns out this CYG, Daniel, also works at the hotel where she has just been hired, so some awkwardness ensues. Eventually they get over that and become friends and then romantic partners. Daniel is also the product of a liaison between a young single woman and an older man who dumps her when he learns she is pregnant. You just might think Birdie, with her background, would be cautious about casual sex, but such is not the case, not least because her mom’s friend encourages her to LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! (in the words of Auntie Mame).
Birdie is a great mystery book lover. Daniel clues her into what he says is a mystery going on right in the hotel where she works. A famous author, who has rigorously kept his identity secret, seems to be frequenting the hotel under his assumed pen name. The two of them set about trying to crack his true identity.
This is a longish (425 pages), lively book, well-plotted and entertaining, but with a lot to unpack in it. Aside from the drama of their origins, both Birdie and Daniel have a lot going on. Birdie has narcolepsy. Daniel’s hearing was injured in an accident AND he is a suicide survivor. Daniel’s mom and Birdie’s “aunt” both have dramatic histories with surprising connections. Daniel’s grandpa had been consigned to a Japanese-American internment camp in WWII. And so on and so on. Never mind, though–despite the complicated story, the author does not lose track of the basic plot. The characters are interestingly drawn and realized, and they are presented sympathetically. The book is set in Seattle, and those who have visited the area or want to visit the area will very much enjoy the use the author makes of the setting.
The course of true love never did run smooth, and it doesn’t in this story either, though it does prevail in the end. A thoughtful discussion in the story revolves around Birdie’s private deliberations about whether she can handle Daniel’s mental problems, past and potential. There are no morals on display here in regard to casual sex, unplanned pregnancies, the idea of abortion, etc. In fact, Birdie’s Aunt Mona explicitly and repeatedly encourages Birdie to enjoy sex with Daniel even though he is pretty much a stranger. Other parental figures don’t bat an eye either. There is some description and talk of sexual activity but it is not lurid. There is also a lot of coarse language; in particular, the author seems to favor the frequent use of “Jesus” and “Jesus Christ” as casual epithets.
If these things don’t bother you, you’ll like the book. It’s regrettable that an otherwise enjoyable story with some thoughtful and instructive threads is rendered offensive to more conservative (dare I say traditionally decent?–why yes, I believe I do dare) readers. Aside from its being religiously offensive, however, I found the harsh language jarring when used in the middle of a madcap adventure or lighthearted moment.
I believe I will sign this review “Old Fogey and Proud of It.”
Categories: Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Death and Grieving, Depression, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Social Disorders, Suicide