Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Jan. 15, 1992 (Vol. 88, No. 10))
When you read the lyrical nature descriptions in the quiet parts of this story, it's hard to believe that they're by the writer of books like the tight thriller Wolf Rider , or the raucous comedy S.O.R. Losers , or the jumpy, brilliant school story Nothing but the Truth. Then, as this novel continues and the scenes of stillness and solitude contrast with raging family confrontation, you realize that Avi is drawing on everything he's written, and more. The telling has the best kind of surprise, reversal that then appears inevitable. There's a rich ambiguity, a yoking of opposites in character, language, mood, pace, and viewpoint that's rare in YA fiction. It doesn't always work. But then, Avi's never been afraid to take risks, to try something new. At first, the nature symbolism and the family dynamics seem like coming-of-age cliches. Maggie, nearly 13, flies in from her home on the West Coast to spend August with her divorced father, his young wife, and their new baby in a rented cabin on a pond at the New England shore. Early every morning, alone in the mist, Maggie watches an enormous blue heron on the marsh. Quiet, solitary, dogged, patient, she's obsessed with its beauty, its infinite slowness. Avi builds each chapter with tight emotion, ending on a hanging note that leaves you wondering and yet pulls you to read on. Maggie soon realizes that her father is ill and that his new marriage is troubled. She's surprised at how much she likes her stepmother, even as she sees that the father she loves is a bully, that he's cruel and also deeply hurt. The message is spelled out ("The people I love--sometimes--I don't like them"), but the story does show that things are confused, complicated, changing--and connected. There's a double climax: one of yelling, explosive fury when Maggie discovers her father's seething secret, what he's been talking about all vacation in those intense, private business calls on his cellular phone; the other, an infinitely fragile moment when Maggie finally gets close enough to touch the heron "hardly more than a breath of finger to feather." Through the most private experience, Maggie connects with nature and with people. Watching the bird, she doesn't know she's being watched by Tucker, a sad, lonely boy who's trying to shoot the heron. The scenes between these two very different kids are moving and funny (he calls her Big Bird), with a contemporary dialogue that's casual and intense. It turns out they're not as different as they seem. She's horrified to see his father slap Tucker's face in public, but soon after, her own father yells abuse at her when he breaks down in a crowded restaurant. Maggie and Tucker are joined in trouble and, finally, in their feeling for something beyond themselves. In contrast to that slap, there's another exquisite moment of contact: when Maggie begs Tucker not to kill the heron she loves, she "touched fingers to his cheek." To Maggie's father, all herons look the same, and the pond is "pretty as a picture." But she looks close enough and hard enough to get beyond that stereotype, and she finds "a different way of seeing . . . what else is there." Category: Older Readers. 1992, Bradbury, $14.95. Gr. 5-8. Starred Review.
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1992)
A versatile author whose popular books include rousing historical adventures (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, 1990, Newbery Honor) and sparkling satire (Nothing But the Truth, 1991) portrays a contemporary family under unusual stress. Flying in for her annual visit with her 50-ish father, his young wife Joanna, and their new baby, Maggie (12) hopes that "nothing about her father [has] changed." Not so: Dad is unaccountably snappish and unreasonable. As the vacation on a Connecticut lake progresses, it develops that he's at odds with Joanna and has heart trouble, while even Joanna doesn't know that he lost his job just after the baby's birth and isn't taking his medication. Maggie's plea that he do so precipitates an angry outburst during which Dad nearly dies in an accident. Though sadly credible, Dad's behavior, as observed by Maggie, makes him unsympathetic and hard to like. Meanwhile, Avi draws other relationships with exceptional subtlety, especially Maggie's growing affection for her nice, intelligent stepmother, who in her need reaches out to her like a sister; and Maggie's delicate negotiation with a neighborhood bully, Tucker, who has been stalking a noble great blue heron. The heron, a potent symbol (Dad says it can mean life or death), has been Maggie's preoccupation and solace; in the end, though Dad's adult problems may defy solution, she manages to transform the belligerent Tucker's perception of the awe-inspiring bird. A thoughtful, beautifully crafted story. 1992, Bradbury, $14.95. Starred Review. © 1992 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.