Katherine Paterson, Author
Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 19, 2021
Suitable for ages: 9-12
Themes: Moving, Separation, Iraq War, Crisis of faith, Friendship
Opening: “If you are wearing a T-shirt that says in big capital letters I ♥ JESUS, you shouldn’t be standing in the middle of the street bawling your eyes out. But that is exactly what Birdie was doing.”
In a poignant and unflinching new realistic novel from the Newbery Medal–winning author of Bridge to Terabithia, a ten-year-old girl makes a deal with God for her father’s safe return from the Iraq War.
Birdie has questions for God. For starters, why couldn’t God roll history back to September 10, 2001, and fix things—so the next day was an ordinary sunny day and not the devastating lead-in to two wars? Daddy has already been to Iraq twice. Now he’s going again, and Birdie is sure he’ll die. At the very least, she won’t see him again for a year, and everything will not be OK. (Why do grown-ups lie?)
To save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about Judgment there—and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain?
Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by a master storyteller.
Why I like this book:
What a great opening (above). Katherine Paterson is known for her spectacular storytelling and great “first pages” that quickly draw readers into the story. You just have to know the “why” and keep on reading. But she’s also thoughtful and it shows in the depth of her characters, her plot and her glorious prose.
Paterson’s keen sensitivity, compassion and penetrating sense of drama brings readers a moving story about Birdie’s father’s third deployment to the middle east and her fear for his safety. Separation is tough on military children and their families both emotionally and financially. Birdie’s mad at the world, refuses to go to the airport to say goodbye, and fears her dad’s luck has run out and he won’t return home this time. So she is angry and has big questions for God — if there is a God. Readers will go through Birdie’s crisis of faith with her.
Paterson creates realistic and memorable characters readers will love spending time with. Birdie is caring and resilient. She isn’t popular in her new school and longs for a friend. She is befriended by Alicia Maria Suggs (Alice May) who claims to have a famous mother who is an actress. Their relationship is exhausting for Birdie. Alicia is bossy, obnoxious, and controls her. Birdie suspects something is seriously wrong at Alicia’s house and that her mother may be abusive. That would explain Alicia wearing make-up. So Birdie has to make some hard decisions about how she can help Alicia. Thankfully she has Gran who is the rock in their family and is always ready to listen. She’s kind, patient and tough when she needs to be. Her teacher Mr. Goldberg is another kind and positive influence for Birdie.
I love that Birdie finds a diary her father gave her for Christmas. It’s been buried in an unpacked box. She calls is “Betsy Lou.” There’s a note inside from her dad that moves her. So she begins to write down all of the things that she’s doing so she can share everything he misses while he’s deployed. It also helps her count down the days until he returns. Readers will be able to explore Birdie’s deepest thoughts, anguish and fears. It helps Birdie cope during some challenging moments in the story. (Sorry, no Spoilers.) But readers are going to cheer for Birdie.
Birdie’s Bargain is an excellent choice for middle grade libraries.
Katherine Paterson, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, has written more than thirty books, including Bridge to Terabithia, My Brigadista Year, and The Great Gilly Hopkins. A recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Montpelier, Vermont.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.
*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.