Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Birdie and Me"

J. M. M. Nuanez's debut middle grade novel, Birdie and Me, was published in February 2020 by Penguin Random House.

In her spare time, she likes to read, garden, and build miniature things. She's a committed fan of cats, pizza, and YouTube.

Nuanez applied the Page 69 Test to Birdie and Me and reported the following:
On page 69, we find our main characters, twelve-year-old Jack and her younger brother, Birdie, on the morning of their disastrous attempt to return home via an unsanctioned nine-hour Greyhound bus ride. Surprisingly, page 69 is a pretty good place to start in terms of getting a sense of the book. Both Jack and Birdie’s voices, along with their unique perspectives and desires are represented, and the constant problem of how these kids will find a place to call home is front and center.
“Half an hour?”

“Okay. We’ll eat Honey Bunny Buns when we get to the station, okay?”

He nods again and says, “How come you’re using that flashlight?”

“I’m worried Patrick will somehow see our room lights. Now remember, bring only what you can carry yourself. I’ll have my own stuff to deal with. I’m not sure if we’ll ever be back here.”

My heart skips a beat saying that out loud.

“I know. You told me last night.” Birdie switches on his own flashlight and gets out of bed. I go back to my room and finish my hair. When I’m done, I check my small duffel bag and backpack. I have to leave some clothes and books behind, but there’s nothing to do about that. We still have to walk to town, take two buses, and then once we’re in Portland, take the city bus to Mrs. Spater’s.

As I help Birdie along the side of the house, I already know Birdie is going to be too cold, but he insisted on wearing his zebra-print leggings and skirt, along with his purple jacket. He has his hair separated into two short pigtails and wears a silver and turquoise beanie, which I’ve never seen before.

“Rosie found it at the thrift shop,” he says. “Don’t worry, it’s washed.”

I put my finger to my lips as we pass in front of the house.
Although much of the story’s plot is incited by Birdie’s choice of clothes, the meat of the drama is really about Jack’s protectiveness over Birdie and her conflicted view of her recently passed mother. This all contributes to her struggle to let her new and unconventional family love her. I’m happy that her apprehension about leaving town is shown – she is determined, yes, but her skipping-heart reveals her nervousness about the decision to runaway back home. And the image of her assisting Birdie along the dark side of their estranged uncle’s house shows Jack’s sense of responsibility and desire to protect him.

All of this truly encapsulates what Jack is all about at this moment in her life.

I am also surprised to find that even Birdie’s sense of style is on display here! And even his insistence of fashion over physical comfort or practicality! While the book isn’t solely about a gender non-conforming kid, Birdie’s clothes play an important role in forcing his new unconventional family to come to grips with all the changes happening around them. Birdie continually receives a lot of (mostly unwanted) attention because of what he wears and I’m happy this important part of his personality is shining quite bright on page 69.

Overall, I think this excerpt does a great job of reflecting my desire to balance authentic, complicated and quirky characters with the sometimes inscrutable quest to find a place they can be their true and best selves. I call it a pass of the Page 69 Test!
Visit J. M. M. Nuanez's website.

Writers Read: J. M. M. Nuanez.

--Marshal Zeringue