by Rita Murphy Book : Elementary and junior high school : Fiction  |  1st ed
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Review of Bird by Rita Murphy   (2009-02-20)
Miranda is a slight girl who is easily lifted and carried by the wind. It deposited her next to Bourne Manor, an imposing house that is home to the widow Wysteria and the four Hounds. Wysteria takes Miranda in - the girl has no memory of where she came from before the wind took her - and puts her to work mending nets for the local fisherman. She also makes Miranda wear a pair of weighted shoes, to keep her from flying off again. As the years pass, Miranda learns some of the secrets of the Manor, hearing rumors of a lost treasure and discovering an attic full of beautiful kites built my Wysteria's dead husband. After the appearance of a friendly boy named Farley, Miranda realizes that the Manor has an insidious hold on her and seeks a way to escape.
I don't know how a book that is relatively short can come across as taking too long to develop, and yet still not completely tell a story. This is a fairly intriguing plot when you boil it down to its basics: Miranda is a mysterious girl who can be carried by the wind, she's trapped in Bourne Manor by the house or by Wysteria, the house is cursed/haunted and corrupts its inhabitants, and there's a mystery about Wysteria's husband that Miranda and Farley solve. A third of the book is dedicated to explaining the daily life of Miranda and Wysteria, and this is just way too long. It's difficult to tell if Wysteria is supposed to be a villain (she has trapped Miranda in the house and works her pretty hard) or just an old woman who's trying to get by (they're often starving) and has succumbed to the house's influence. You feel sorry for her, particularly when she gets pneumonia. The house itself is a confusing character - it's only in the last couple of chapters that it becomes malevolent. It would've been much more effective to show the house's influence over the seven years (which pass in the first 28 pages) Miranda lives there, rather than the few weeks at the end of the story.
The plot really picks up when Farley becomes a regular character and he gives Miranda some of her background. The language is pretty and on the verge of being purple prose. However, for all the descriptions we get, I had a terrible time understanding just how small or how old Miranda was. I also couldn't tell who the intended audience is for this book - professional reviews suggest tweens, but the language is just so proper that I think it would be a hard sell. The cover (which is probably the best thing about the book), the length, and the plot make me think it's for children, but I think the language works even less for that crowd.
Overall, this just feels like a very underdeveloped story. If you chopped out the first third of the book and gave more depth to Miranda, Wysteria, and the house, this would be much better.
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