Blue Birds is the second book by Caroline Starr Rose, and I was fortunate enough to have been given a copy of the ARC. Caroline is also the author of May B., a good book that I especially liked for its allusion to “the place where the earth meets the sky.” Both are historical fiction novels, with the first focusing more on the main characters own inner struggle and the second geared towards a girls’ interaction with the world in a very big way.
Blue Birds is set in Roanoke, starting in 1587. Of course Roanoke is the location of the famous Roanoke Colony, which mysteriously disappeared but not without leaving some strange markings. Throughout the book we follow the adventures of Alis, a girl from Britain who has sailed over to America with her family, and Kimi, an Indian girl.
When Alis gets there with her parents, however, things are not as they planned. They were intending to go and establish the colony of Ralegh in Chesapeake Bay, but their pilot Ferdinando abandons them in Roanoke. The colony has been empty for a long time, and it appears that her beloved Uncle Samuel may be dead.
Still, they are going to make the best of the situation. Alis’ mom has a baby and Alis starts helping out with taking care not only of him but also of other children. Alis doesn’t fully like this, but at least she has her blue bird that her Uncle Samuel gave her.
She loses it one day, though, running away from the Indian girl, Kimi. Alis soon she becomes curious about the girl, having no one else her own age and gender to hang out with. Although they don’t speak the same language, they still communicate and have a good time together.
The Indians are suspicious of the English, considering the war that has just happened. Kimi has lost her own dear sister, and Alis is something of a replacement. The English know nothing about the previous conflict, however, only seeing the dead bodies. The leader of a neighboring tribe, Manteo, tries to bring people together, but no one is sure which side he’s on, even though he’s been given authority by the Queen.
Tensions continue to escalate, with the Indians wanting revenge and the English attacking Manteo’s colony, their ally. There are deaths, but Alis and Kimi are able to help warn each other about their groups’ plans so that nothing catastrophic happens. The English eventually are planning to leave, when Alis gets caught with Kimi. She is seen as a traitor, and her dad loses his honor. She apologizes and says she is wrong, but in the end chooses to leave her family and live with Alis and her family.
This book is very historically accurate, verified by a lot of research on the author’s part. I was able to learn a lot about what happened at Roanoke leading up to the disappearance, none of which I knew before. Some of the characters in the book are actual people, so it is based on the historical record except for the ending where the tribe leaves, which is Caroline’s own theory.
The verse format is nice, and the author does it very well. We hear the characters talking to us and get to know them well, living the story through their eyes. Verse narration is nice because it allows a sensitivity that is not possible in normal first person narration. The only problem is that some of the details of what is going on are a little blurred because the verse references can be kind of ambiguous about them. Following along with everything was easy while I was reading, but later I didn’t remember the details of what happened much, probably somewhat because it was often not stated directly.
What I really liked about the book is the fact that Alis chooses to abandon her family and live with a people whose language she does not speak, solely based on her friendship with Kimi. That is really awesome and it shows a great courageousness which stems from Alis valuing and choosing what is most important to her, in this case a friendship based on a common human bond whereas her own family and village are in all sorts of confusions and do not trust her.
Blue Birds sets up tensions early and there are plenty of mysteries and unanswered questions to keep readers going through the book. It’s very good that even though the theme of the book is clearly friendship, Caroline knows that intrigue is what keeps kids reading. Nevertheless, original action driven by the main characters does not really take place until the very end of the book.
Overall, this is a good book, but I wish more original stuff had happened in addition to the history. The history is interesting to learn about, but the really important part of a book is what the characters themselves choose to do. At the end Alis makes an awesome decision, and she and Kimi help each other out a bit throughout, but there was opportunity for a lot more action and a lot more excitement instead of merely reading about the girls’ reactions to what is happening around them. Just having a couple of fun side plots to keep the story moving would’ve been really helpful.
I think a lot of girls will like this book anyway. I find it difficult to imagine too many boys reading it, even just based on the cover, although some boys would no doubt enjoy the historical side of the book. It is definitely not for kids who do not read a lot, just because of the lack of character action early on. It has many strengths, however, and middle grade girls who read a lot and are at least somewhat into historical fiction will find this a very worthy read.
This post is part of a week-long blog tour for the book Blue Birds. Author Caroline Starr Rose is giving away a downloadable PDF of this nice Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, January 19. PDFs will be sent out January 20.