Disclosure: This book was provided to me by Edelweiss free of charge in return for an honest and unbiased review. This book is scheduled to be released on January 08, 2019 by Nancy Paulsen Books.
I don’t usually read too many Middle Grade books. I often find myself too far removed from the trials and tribulations of the preteen protagonists and can never quite relate. Furthermore, since I do not have children of my own, I usually have a hard time connecting in even a secondhand, roundabout sort of way. It’s slightly depressing to admit that I’ve gotten to an age where everyone younger than me is, “like, twelve”.
Here’s the thing:
Brenda Woods made me like a Middle Grade book and that’s so awesome! Now, down to the nitty gritty.
Our main protagonist Gabriel is super excited when he receives a bike for his twelfth birthday. Not just any bike, mind you, but a Schwinn Autocycle Deluxe WITH a built-in electric light. So Gabe’s riding through town, showing off his new ride when he almost gets creamed by a car because he’s not paying attention (probably a big ol’, heavy, solid metal car too since it’s 1946). Good thing Meriwether Hunter is there to spare him from being roadkill. To show his thanks, Gabriel convinces his father to give Mr. Hunter a mechanic’s job at his shop – the only issue is that Meriwether is African American and Birdsong, USA is in the south during the Jim Crow era (following the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws were in effect until 1968. Seriously, that’s over 100 years people). Therefore, not everyone in Birdsong is happy in regards to Mr. Hunter’s employment and conflict follows.
I really enjoyed “The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA”. It covers a crucial period in America’s history but it does it from a unique perspective and with a fresh outlook. Each character is well-defined and believable. I especially enjoyed Gabriel’s future beatnik cousin, Tink. Seriously, I would read a whole book about Tink. Abigail, Meriwether’s daughter, is pretty great too but I would have enjoyed a final interaction or a nice gesture between her and Gabriel at the end. Like, if Gabriel had given her a copy of the book that she was so looking forward to reading then that would have been awesome.
There are only two minor annoyances that prevented “The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA” from getting a 5-star review from me and they are as follows:
The characters in this book spend ALOT of time introducing themselves to one another. We’re talking full on dialogue conversations where the characters are like, “This is so-and-so” and the character responds, “Hi so-and-so, nice to meet you”. This happened enough throughout this short book for me to take notice. As the reader, I already know who the characters are so you can say that they exchanged introductions but I don’t need all the details. It ends up just being filler dialogue and a complete waste of my time.
My other issue with Birdsong is the way that the main conflict in the book is settled. Right as things are starting to come to a head, Woods pretty much chickens out and douses those flames with the most convenient and unbelievable of resolutions. I’m not too mad, I realize that this is a middle grade book. For me, however, it kept “The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA” from being truly remarkable. I wanted the ending that wasn’t necessarily the “best case scenario”. The lives of the characters are changed, though, and Gabriel goes from being a naive twelve year old to a forward thinking youth.
Honestly, these are minor complaints and they should not deter you from enjoying this wonderful addition to the Children’s Historical Fiction genre.