Monday, May 2, 2011

Male Monday: Bird in a Box

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney 2011
Little, Brown & Company/Hachette Book Group

Rating: 2.5/5

IQ "I rush past everybody else who's waiting. I pretend to have lost my mama which is really not faking anything, because even though my mama is nowhere near this coldest ever, I truly don't know where my mother is. That makes it true. I've lost my mama." Hibernia pg. 145

It's the late 1930s and the Great Depression is in full force, the pain felt by all. It's also the golden age of radio and Hibernia wants to be a famous singer at the Savoy Ballroom, just like her mother. Or at least she imagines that her mother is a famous singer at the Savoy, since her mother left her to sing at the Savoy when she was a newborn. Now Hibernia lives with her preacher father and hasn't heard from her mother since she left. She listens to radio programs that bring the sound of jazz into her home. Otis is living at The Mercy Home for Negro Orphans and he only has the Philco (type of radio) and gum wrappers from his father and an embroidered handkerchief of his mother's. Willie also lives at The Mercy Home for Negro Orphans but he is much more close-lipped about his family. They each have hopes and dreams and they find themselves drawn to Joe Louis, their hopes seemingly tied inexplicably to his fate.

I chose that particular incredible quote because it's both amusing and annoying, just like Hibernia. While Hibernia is annoying, she has a distinctive voice, in contrast to Otis and Willie, whom I kept mixing up. The voices of Otis and Willie blended together. I knew that one of them had scarred hands and that the other was an actual orphan but I could rarely remember who was who. Furthermore there was no character development, no growth in maturity and Otis was a saint. As it was Otis and Willie had to grow up fast, but then their growth stagnated. I'm not even sure why Hibernia was in the story to be perfectly honest. She wasn't living at the orphanage and I think her character would have been more interesting if she was actually an orphan and set off to pursue her dreams. I wasn't thrilled by the dialogue and descriptions either. Phrases such as "[i]t's as if a mighty hand is yanking the room to its feet." (pg. 253) and "Carmen turns her voice in popcorn blips. I backflip the melody into flatted riffs." (pg. 228) made the book seem like it was trying to hard to be creative with words. I don't even know what a 'flatted riff' is. The flashbacks were stiff and I didn't understand why the story couldn't just start at the beginning instead of a year later, as a teaser it was rather ineffective. Finally the narrative would abruptly end at points and never be revisited such as when *SPOILER, highlight to read*: The boys get the radio back from the bleach man. I refuse to believe the bleach man wouldn't know it was them, so why was no mention made of their punishment?*End spoiler*

Occasionally the creative wording/descriptions worked well such as when Hibernia "put pepper on that tune." (pg. 227). I loved the details about the radio though. I really did get the impression that this was the "Golden Age of Radio" the commentators had personality and it was easy to see through the author's words how the radio programs affected the listeners. The variety of programs was shown ranging from jazz music, to of course, the Joe Louis fights. The other historical tidbits gel quite well with the fictional characters, places and events, there is a real sense of time and place. The illustrations were lovely, simple but expressive. The only character who became fully fleshed out (in my opinion) was Lila, the orphanage worker. She was a doll, tough when needed but always ready to give the children a hug, she has a tough past but doesn't wallow in depression. Although I would like to know why she randomly showed up at Hibernia's church...

Bird in a Box left more questions in my mind than answers except when it came to the importance of radio during the 1930s. Storylines were abruptly ended and the three children had interesting backgrounds but remained flat with no development. I don't much about the 1930s but all the facts seemed to be in order to me, the town of Elmira, New York came to life. A town that was filled with people who wanted to work but couldn't find jobs and yet still mustered up the cheer to DRESS UP (I mean that in the best of ways) for church. Personally, I wish the story had actually taken place in the more exciting New York City but at least Elmira developed a presence in my mind (and I could understand Hibernia's frustration with the town). A hit or miss read I think.

Disclosure: Received for review from publisher. Thank you L&B!