cover image Birdie and Me

Birdie and Me

J.M.M. Nuanez. Penguin/Dawson, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-399-18677-6

Nuanez’s debut follows a long tradition of middle grade novels about children virtually on their own, navigating a world of imperfect adults. The children in question are narrator Jack, 12, and her brother Birdie, nine, a gender-creative, fashionably precocious kid whose Alexander McQueen–inspired style is underappreciated—to say the least—in the tiny town of Moser, Calif. That’s where the siblings end up, bouncing between their late mother’s much older brothers after she dies in a somewhat mysterious car accident. Carl, affirming but unreliable, forgets to send them to school regularly, so they move in with responsible but stoic Patrick, who defends and respects Birdie in his own way despite his stern demeanor. Nuanez slowly unspools the circumstances surrounding Jack and Birdie’s mother’s death, working up to a revelation that feels both surprising and inevitable, and resists simplistic characterizations, slowly divulging both uncles’ strengths and weaknesses with a well-paced, deceptively subdued plot. Sure-handed storytelling and choice details revealed through Jack’s observation notebook mark a strong middle grade debut. Ages 10–up. [em]Agent: Susan Hawk, the Bent Agency. (Feb.) [/em]