I was curled up in the seat by the window. Out in the street a little bird bounced along the footpath, pecking up invisible crumbs. It didn’t seem to care about the world around it – the busy shopping strip and the people dashing by. It just hopped out of the way and kept pecking, as if it didn’t even know how small and crushable it was. The more I watched it, the more sure I became that someone would tread on it. A small child raced along the footpath, and a big red-faced woman laden with shopping backs lumbered after him. Suited men in shiny shoes and suited women in dangerous high heels hurried past the window. Two women walked side by side, pushing big-wheeled prams. A young guy loped past, his head tilted upwards, as if waiting for something to fall out of the sky. None of the passers-by seemed aware of the little bird’s existence. If I were a bird I’d fly all the time. I’d never come down to the ground.
Year 11 student, Ruby-Lee is stuck in a bit of a rut and unfortunately it’s not even a comfortable rut. Her sister, Shandra, has transformed into Bridezilla, her father has remarried and has a new baby, her best friend dishes out doses of friendship tied tight with strings. When her sister offers her as babysitter for Maisy, daughter of chief bridesmaid, Colette, Ruby-Lee is cross and uncertain. But Maisy quickly wins her heart. When the one-off becomes a regular gig, Ruby-Lee quickly falls madly in love with this gorgeous baby. Then Spence, Maisy’s father and also at teacher at Ruby-Lee’s school turns up. Things start to get more complicated as Spence’s mother arrives, Shandra’s wedding is called off and Colette starts to stay out later and later. Ruby-Lee has to navigate her way past the morass of other people’s problems to sort out just who she is and where she’s going.
It’s hard to know the answers when you don’t understand the questions. Ruby-Lee’s life is like that. She can’t articulate what’s missing in her life, only that something is. She tells her story in first person and the reader weaves through the narrative with her as she bumps and grinds her way through with little sense of where she’s going. Her parents’ divorce and subsequent repartnering initially appear to have little effect on her, yet the changes brought are at least partly responsible for continuing the friendship with Tegan. The only good part of the friendship seems to be its longevity. Her sister’s volatility seems to have its basis in the same unacknowledged insecurity. There are many relationships on show here, some functional, others less so. Only by watching closely those around her can Ruby-Lee begin to address her English essay topic, ‘What is Love?’ Recommended for secondary-aged readers.
Little Bird (Girlfriend Fiction), Penni Russon
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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