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by Nicky Singer
Delacorte Press, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 1st 2002

Feather Boy

Feather Boy is a wonderful novel for young adults.  Robert is 12 years old.  He gets picked on at school, and girls are not interested in him at all.  His parents are divorced, and he lives with his mother.  He and several children in his class are assigned to spend time with old people from a local residential home.  Robert is assigned to Edith, an old lady who seems troubled by her past, and this meeting changes his life.

            Edith tells Robert to go to Chance House, a local derelict building, and soon he learns the story of a boy who jumped out of a window from the top of that building.  He realizes that that boy was the son of Edith.  Robert also realizes that when he visits Edith, the old lady becomes livelier, and although she seems quite ill, he might be able to help her.  But in order to help Edith, he has face his own fears, and in particular, the bully who is sometimes friendly to him and sometimes makes his life a misery.  Because Edith matters to him, he does find strength, and surprises even himself. 

            But it’s not so much the plot is impressive here.  Rather, it’s the quality of the writing, bringing alive the description of the different characters, and the interactions between them.  This is certainly helped by the compelling reading by Philip Franks of the unabridged audiobook; both author and reader are British, and so anglophiles will especially enjoy the reading. 

            The title of the book refers to the legend of the firebird, which is indeed central to the book.  Some of the book is a little earnest, and the morals that young people have something to learn from old people, and that bullies have their own fears and weaknesses, may seem a little too obvious, but they are nevertheless worth pointing out. They book even seems a little old fashioned, being almost completely free of references to modern culture, but that may be a strength, especially in enhancing its ability to appeal to readers on both sides of the Atlantic. 

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.