- Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
At twelve-years old, “Little John” Fischer isn’t so little anymore. A recent growth spurt allows him to help his father earn money chopping and hauling trees—work that’s physically demanding and emotionally devastating, given his younger sister’s recent fatal fall from a dead branch. Drowning in the guilt of not having caught her, Little John plays along when his mother talks as if his sister’s still alive; he also ignores his father’s drinking and hides his family’s dwindling solvency from his best friend by avoiding him completely. Lonely and unbearably sad, he meets Gayle, an abused foster child with a magical voice that enchants the birds and heals the wounded. She trusts Little John immediately, leaping into his arms from her “nest,” the branch of a tree where she claims her parents will find her one day, and even following him into the home of Mr. King, the wealthy and unnerving landowner from whom she usually flees. When Little John sells her voice—and her trust—to Mr. King for the money to cover his family’s rent, he knows he must make it right, no matter the cost. Magical realism meets coming of age in this sensitive and haunting novel, with the relentless, eroding effects of family tragedy in full relief. Sympathetic but not saccharine, Loftin’s portrayal of Little John, with his tremendous sense of responsibility and his unflagging feeling of guilt, as well as his [End Page 413] need for love and acceptance, will resonate with readers who carry life’s burdens. The otherworldly Gayle will captivate their imaginations as she flutters in and out of reach, singing the injured back to health and calling the birds to her with her voice, but it’s Little John who will capture their hearts. Read this aloud and have both boys and girls alike utterly enraptured.