- Bird by Crystal Chan
Daughter of a Jamaican father and her half-Mexican, half-white mother, Jewel has always felt out of place in her small Iowa town. More importantly, she feels out of place in her own family, having been born on the day her then five-year-old brother John, whom her grandfather nicknamed Bird, tried to fly off a bluff and died. Her grandfather hasn’t spoken a word since, and her birthday is a day of sadness for her parents. Jewel’s father believes duppies, malevolent spirits, were responsible for her brother’s death, and while her mother considers this superstitious nonsense that will prevent her daughter from being practical, she nonetheless doesn’t support Jewel’s desire to become a scientist. When Jewel meets John, an adopted black boy staying with his uncle, she finds a kindred spirit, someone as out of place as she is and as interested in astronomy as she is in geology. Her grandfather, however, believes that John is a duppy, coming to claim his other grandchild. Chan has carefully crafted John and Jewel as effective foils for each other; their shared interest in science propels multiple metaphors that help Jewel figure out what is solid and knowable versus what must be taken on faith or intuited. John’s family situation also provides an inverted mirror for Jewel’s, offering both of them a chance for reflection and growth as they start to assert themselves and insist that their parents stop taking them for granted. Their process is realistically fumbled yet ultimately successful; both character arcs show a deep respect for readers’ abilities to negotiate the complexities of belief and doubt, and to find meaning via character reflection.