Reviews /

Bird Boy

Authored by Catherine Bruton
Published by Nosy Crow Ltd

Bird Boy is a beautiful novel about loss, migration and the healing power of nature. After the death of his mother, Will is temporarily sent to live with his gruff but kindly Uncle Ian in the Lake District. There he is befriended by Omar, who has come to the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan and shares Will’s passion for birds. Together they discover an osprey nest on the side of the mountain; realising how vulnerable the osprey chicks are, they start to help them survive, but soon realise that they have taken on more than they had bargained for.

The novel references A Kestrel for a Knave, and Catherine Bruton talks about her own love for Barry Hines’s novel in the afterword. In many respects, her novel about the connection between a boy and a bird is more hopeful and uplifting, but still touches on a number of serious issues that affect many young people today, in particular the trauma that Will has experienced, both of losing his mother and, before that, of becoming a young carer for someone suffering from mental illness. Will associates Whitetip the osprey chick with his mother, and her words ‘We all come back as birds’ resonate throughout the novel as he tries desperately to heal the pain of her loss through tending to Whitetip.

Omar’s story also allows for sensitive exploration of the experiences of refugees – and Bruton draws strong connections between the migration of humans and birds. Omar is a great character, whose confidence, humour and pride in his heritage mask his deeper feelings of vulnerability and hurt. There is something particularly powerful about how Bruton initially makes Omar the character who cares for and supports Will; later, Will is able to reciprocate Omar’s kindness.

I thought this was a magnificent novel which was both gripping and profoundly moving (as well as teaching me lots that I didn’t know about birds and avian rescue!) Bruton’s background as a teacher is reflected in the sensitivity and empathy with which she writes about different forms of trauma experienced by young people. Mature Year 5 or 6 readers would enjoy this novel, and it would make a superb Year 7 or 8 class reader as there is real depth both in Bruton’s writing and the themes explored.