'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 20 April 2012

Review: The Messenger Bird

Tamar is devastated by the death of her18-year-old brother Trystan in a car accident. Feeling disconnected and alone, she is overwhelmed by her grief and further distressed by the distance between herself and her parents as they each try to deal with their unbearable loss. She refuses to play the piano, ignores her friends, avoids school and even the eager attempts of her new neighbour Gavin to become friends can't break through the wall she has placed between herself and the world.

When Tamar discovers an old piece of handwritten music, she is tempted to play the piano for the first time since her brother's death. The music stirs her emotions and connects her with Nathanial, a gifted young violinist who lived in her home over a century earlier. With a shared love of music and both dealing with a similar loss, they comfort each other and find healing in the music and their unexpected friendship.

The Messenger Bird is a story of grief and healing, focusing on the sense of isolation experienced by Tamar and her family as they try to deal with their loss. Avoiding talking about the accident or even mentioning Trystan's name temporarily helps Tamar and her parents ignore their hurt, but ultimately their refusal to face the fact of Trystan's death makes it difficult for them to offer each other the comfort they so desperately need or to deal with their own feelings of loss, guilt and anger.

Tamar's friendship with Nathanial is touching and it is with him that she is finally honest about her feelings. Their conversations also touch on the difference in lifestyles between 2006 and 1886, particularly family relationships and expectations. The 'ghost' element to the story is surprisingly free from eerie supernatural overtones.

The slowly developing friendship between Gavin and Tamar adds an additional element to the story, with Gavin facing his own isolation after his father was forced to sell the family farm due to drought. Attracted to Tamar and eager to get to know her, Gavin's friendship keeps Tamar connected with the present. The alternate narration between Tamar and Gavin offers an objective view of Tamar and her family as well as a more personal, emotional perspective. Occasional entries by Nathanial provide background to why he and Tamar share such a strong connection.

The Messenger Bird is a beautifully and gently written story of grief and healing, especially focusing on the emotional impact of the traumatic loss of a young life. Tamar's relationship with her father as they try to hold their fractured family together is particularly touching. This novel is best suited to thoughtful readers and those interested in a strongly character driven story.

Title:  The Messenger Bird
Author:  Rosanne Hawke
Publisher: UQP, $19.95 RRP
Publication Date:  March 2012
Format:  Paperback
ISBN:  9780702238826
For ages: 11+ years
Type: Young adult fiction