cover image The Meaning of Birds

The Meaning of Birds

Jaye Robin Brown. HarperTeen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-282444-8

Jess is a talented artist who has long used creating to cope with anger, but nothing has seemed worth doing since her girlfriend Vivi’s sudden death. Jess’s father died in Afghanistan when she was young, and the loss of Vivi brings back familiar waves of anger and helplessness, which she deals with by fighting, especially with jerks at her suburban North Carolina school who harass her about being gay. It lands her in an alternative school whose work experience component includes blacksmithing, and Jess, it turns out, is a natural. Hammering hot metal helps get the anger out, reawakens her artistic impulses, and gives her the impetus to apply to college. Jess’s close-knit friend group and delightful, bird-loving Vivi are affectionately rendered. Brown (Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit) depicts Jess with raw realism, making the early sections hard going: she seems hell-bent on alienating everyone but her patient family to ensure that if Vivi doesn’t have a future, she won’t, either. At the same time, the anger-soaked beginning enriches the payoff, when a grief group and blacksmithing start to help Jess find her way, not out of grief, but back into life. Ages 14–up. (Apr.)