“Nightbird” by Alice Hoffman (Wendy Lamb Books, 208 pages, $16.99)
Life imitates art?
But really, life imitates pie.
Twelve-year-old Teresa “Twig” Fowler can appreciate the way tart rhubarb and sweet, ripe strawberries burble together under her mother’s secret-recipe crust to become a symphony of early-spring deliciousness.
“I like the idea of something bitter and something sweet mixed together to create something incredible,” she says. “Maybe that’s because I come from a family in which we don’t expect each other to be like anyone else.
“Being unusual is not unusual for the Fowlers.”
Novelist Alice Hoffman, best known for her more than 30 bestselling adult novels, turns her focus to middle-grade fiction with her newest work, the deliciously magical “Nightbird.” Like strawberry-rhubarb pie, the story, intended for ages 10 and up, is an enchanting combination of tart and sweet, of ancient curses and modern realism.
Set in the Berkshires in the town of Sidwell, where rumors of a winged beast draw in as much tourism as the town’s famed apple orchards, “Nightbird” weaves a layered tale.
Twig lives in a remote area with her mysterious brother and her mother, the baker of irresistible apple pies. When a new family arrives, Twig finds a friend and ally, and the two girls work together to try to vanquish a curse that has kept the Fowler family in isolation.
The book’s setting and story should draw plenty of young readers. And let’s be honest: Its gorgeous cover, which features the main character floating on feathered black wings beneath a dazzling red moon, will only help its appeal.
There’s a lot for young readers here, including lessons about friendship and family, and characters who speak honestly about feeling scared, confused, angry or alone.
“That evening was the beginning of my feeling lonely, a feeling I carried folded up, a secret I could never tell,” Twig says. “From then on, I didn’t cry when I was disappointed. I just stored up my hurts, as if they were a tower made of fallen stars, invisible to most people, but brightly burning inside of me.”
Not surprisingly, Hoffman’s middle-grade debut is a lovely fairy tale, tender and sweet, like a hug from a new friend.