Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

Publishing Details

Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
Publisher: Dutton Junvenile
Genre: Fantasy
Age Group: Middle Grade
Rating: 3 Stars


An enchanting—and twisted—tale of two sisters’ quest to find their parents.

When their parents disappear in the middle of the night, young sisters Summer and Bird set off on a quest to find them. A cryptic picture message from their mother leads them to a familiar gate in the woods, but comfortable sights quickly give way to a new world entirely—Down—one inhabited by talking birds and the evil Puppeteer queen. Summer and Bird are quickly separated, and their divided hearts lead them each in a very different direction in the quest to find their parents, vanquish the Puppeteer, lead the birds back to their Green Home, and discover the identity of the true bird queen.

With breathtaking language and deliciously inventive details, Katherine Catmull has created a world unlike any other, skillfully blurring the lines between magic and reality and bringing to life a completely authentic cast of characters and creatures. (Goodreads)


I have mixed feelings about Summer and Bird. It took a while for me to get into, in part because of the very flowery, almost dreamy prose, in part because it takes its time getting to the action. It’s a story about two sisters, yes, but it’s also a story about love, abandonment, jealousy, home, and so many other themes that it would probably take up a whole other book to list them all. It’s definitely not just for MG/YA readers, and it’s definitely the kind of story you don’t really understand the first time you go through it.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it. I LOVED the world-building. The land of Down collects many pre-existing bird-related folklore (swan maidens, phoenixes, etc.) and gives them a very unique twist, so that Summer and Bird feels oddly familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. There is also a lot of original magic and characters: a woman named the Puppeteer who swallows birds, which then enables her to understand their language; crane maps; the World Tree, etc. What impacted me more than what Catmull wrote about was how she wrote about it. Here are a few lines from the book:

"Sleep opened its dark mouth and swallowed her."

"She was only half Bird now, and the other half song."

"Bird said Summer was being stupid, that their mother obviously talked in poems, and poems were always true."

The poetic-ness of it created a very magical atmosphere, but at the same time it discouraged me from getting into the story. I’m usually a fan of lyrical writing, but this time it just felt so … thick. For me, it Summer and Bird very emotionally heavy, almost angsty, and gave little room for the plot to move forward at a reasonable pace. The book was told in the POV’s of the two sisters, irregularly switching from one to the next, and there was constantly an effort to add more background details all the way to the end of the book.

The issues that Summer, Bird, and their family deal with are all very real, however, and makes up for the book’s weak points. Catmull doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat anything. Their adventures are deep, dark, and sometimes (a lot) twisted. Every character is a bit flawed, a bit cracked. The ending is not exactly happy. The story’s honesty, though, is the real winner. So, although I know this is definitely not the perfect book for every type of reader, I have a feeling that Summer and Bird will resonate in some way with everybody. But this is the kind of book that you can’t take someone’s word on. I recommend you read it for yourself. 


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