Review of Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers
by Celia C. Pérez
Intermediate, Middle School    Kokila/Penguin    367 pp.    g
9/19    978-0-425-29043-9    $16.99

In alternating chapters, readers meet lonely, artistic Lane DiSanti; bird-lover Cat Garcia; cooking whiz Aster Douglas; and aspiring journalist Ofelia Castillo. Spending an enforced summer vacation in sleepy Sabal Palms, Florida, with her wealthy grandmother, Lane decides to form a club and surreptitiously places invitations all around town to an “Inaugural Meeting of the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders.” With realistic awkwardness, the four girls gradually forge a friendship, united by a common cause: stopping the Floras, the town’s traditional girls’ club, from bestowing its ceremonial feathered hat at the annual Miss Floras contest (Cat calls the hat “bird murder”). Acts of resistance involving stickers, plastic flamingos, and attempted hat theft don’t always go smoothly and result in frank discussions of privilege and risk among the friends, a diverse group in terms of ethnicity as well as class (e.g., Ofelia’s mother is employed by Lane’s grandmother). Pérez’s (The First Rule of Punk, rev. 7/17) third-person narrative, with chapters each focusing on one of the four friends, evokes the small-town Florida setting vividly as it balances the ensemble cast and evokes readers’ sympathies for each member, even when the characters don’t understand one another. The Ostentation’s appended handbook provides tips on the girls’ favorite activities, and an author’s note expands on the history of feathered hats and, more broadly, on activism. Perfect for preteens becoming aware that friendships can be complicated, and that the world is more so.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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