cover image Kite


Melvin Burgess. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34228-9

In a dramatic departure from his compelling Smack, Burgess here takes on environmental issues, with mixed results. Somewhat arbitrarily set in 1964, the author's tale of a predatory and endangered species unfolds primarily through the perspective of Taylor Mase, the son of a gamekeeper. The first obstacle to readers may be the organizing principle of the novel: the British practice of raising pheasants on private land, specifically for an annual hunt (even though a brief foreword explains the vocation of gamekeeping). As the novel opens, Taylor is stealing crow eggs out of a treetop nest--against the preacher's wishes--at the urging of Reg Harris, his father's boss and the owner and breeder of pheasants for such a hunt. Mr. Harris is quickly painted as a villain, and the conflict becomes clear to readers just as swiftly. When Harris's uncle Teddy appears on the scene like wildlife's guardian angel, he informs Taylor of a rare red kite on the property, one of only 24 left in the world. The novel's greatest strength is Burgess's ability to depict the kite as a threat to the pheasants, the kite's predators and its surroundings in a realistic, unanthropomorphized way. Readers will likely feel as protective of the creature as Teddy does, but the cardboard treatments of Reg and Teddy Harris, coupled with the ambiguity of Taylor's father's perspective, make this a bumpy ride. Toward the end, the viewpoints begin to shift so often and abruptly among the characters that readers may be too lost in the trail of what motivates them to fully appreciate the upbeat conclusion. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)