The Blue Wings

Jef Aerts, trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson, illus. by Martijn van der Linden. Levine Querido, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-64614-008-4

Aerts’s offbeat novel tenderly depicts the bond between 11-year-old Josh and 16-year-old Jadran, brothers who are so close they fall asleep matching the rhythm of their breaths. Affectionately called “Giant” by Josh and the siblings’ single mother, physically large Jadran has a mental disability, and Josh has always proudly served as his “guardian angel.” Soon after their mother’s boyfriend, Murad, and his daughter, Yasmin, move in, the family visits a local lake to see the soon-to-be migrating cranes; when the flock leaves behind an injured baby, Jadran insists on taking it home. His obsessive attempts to teach the bird, called Sprig, to fly lead to Josh breaking his leg, in turn forcing the decision for Jadran to live full-time at his “special school.” Rebelling against the separation, and under the guise of returning Sprig to his now-faraway flock, the boys make a madcap escape via tractor, wheelchair and crane in tow. Their adventure strains credulity, and depictions of Jadran seesaw between respecting his moments of insight and patronizing his emotional immaturity and volatility, but the brothers’ love and loyalty, as well as the newly blended family’s growing union, gives the story a strong emotional foundation. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)