Bird by Crystal Chan

It must be really hard to live in a pagan religious society in which there are spirits and gods and entities (in this book they’re called “duppies”) to be placated, appeased, and feared, and no Jesus to confront and destroy them. Jewel, the protagonist and narrator of this middle grade novel, lives with her Jamaican father, her Hispanic mother, her mute grandfather, and a whole lot of invisible duppies. What she needs is a friend, and she does find one when a boy who says his name is John comes along. The weird thing is that John was the name of Jewel’s older brother, aka Bird, who died in an accident the same day Jewel was born. Can Jewel’s new friend John liberate Jewel and her family from all of the secrets and lies and superstitions that have kept them cursed and afraid for all of Jewel’s lifetime?

Bird was a very superstitious book. Jewel’s mother doesn’t believe in duppies and curses and communicating with rocks and trees, but almost everyone else in the book does. There’s one scene of near-sanity about spiritual things when Jewel and her mother go to visit a priest, Father Jim, who tells them, “There are a lot of ways God talks to us. Many times, it’s through the church. But if Jewel hasn’t been raised in the church, then God will talk to his children in other ways.” Father Jim also gives Jewel and her mother some good advice about duppies and discernment, but there’s not much evidence in the book that Jewel’s family pays attention to Father Jim’s advice.

It’s a sad little story about a family trapped in superstition and recrimination and secretiveness and misunderstanding. I found it difficult to get through and hard to stomach. I wanted some gospel (good news), but mostly the story was about coping with the bad news of sin and darkness as best one could. Music helps Jewel and her grandfather. Breaking through the silence that has built up in the family around the circumstances of Bird’s death helps a little. A near-tragedy and ensuing rescue bring some measure of healing. But generally, the tone of the story is sad and trapped.

People need the Lord.

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