Gayle Brandeis: The Book of Dead Birds

The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel - Gayle Brandeis

There were parts of this book that I really liked, mostly when the main character, Ava Sing Lo, was describing her childhood. Ava's mother was mysteriously awful, and at the same time exhiliratingly different. I had read the opening passage, in which Ava's mother puts her on a see-saw and jumps down hard on the other end, sending little Ava high up into the air -- because long ago, women were kept within high walls and they had to jump up to see the world. This passage was what made me want to seek out this book. Stories about strange parenting are so interesting, especially ones in which the parents risk concussion in order to give their children wondrous and profound experiences. You have to love someone pretty hard to do that for them -- but at the same time, Ava's mother hates her because her skin is dark. So many mysteries!


Unfortunately, this note is not struck again in the rest of the book. Ava's mother continues to be awful, but not mysterious. They never discuss Ava's race. She doesn't give Ava any more dramatic experiences: in fact, she does the opposite, she shuts Ava down until Ava is a tight ball of frigidity. She is not magic, she is just very damaged. In the end, she doesn't teach Ava about flying over walls, she teaches her to become the wall, and Ava has to figure out how to get around that on her own. It wasn't at all clear to me that her mother actually loved Ava. I think, like the rest of her life, Ava was something she managed to endure.


It was a good coming-of-age story, and a good learning-to-fly story, but it wasn't as good a book as I was hoping it would be.