Book review: Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

Nightbird2Nightbird is a beautifully written, engaging story with a fairytale quality.  Anyone who’s ever wished there were fairy tales for teens and adults… here is one.

Twig is a 12-year-old girl who lives a sheltered life in a small town. Twig is painfully shy, to the point that people barely notice her, and she has no friends. At first we think this is because of her shyness… but then we learn that her mther is hiding some secrets, which is why Twig can’t invite anyone over.


I love the way we don’t find out until several chapters into the book that what Twig and her mother are hiding is Twig’s brother… who has wings. James has had wings since birth because of a curse put on the family hundreds of years ago by a witch. Once his wings grew too big to hide, the family moved back to Sidwell from New York, and isolated themselves from the mother’s former friends. James never leaves the house in daytime; only in the dark of night when he can fly through the sky unseen.

But it’s hard to keep a secret in a small town, and a long-standing legend of a local monster starts to heat up again when things go missing around town. We’re kept wondering, is it James who’s taking these things, when he’s out at night? Or someone else?

When a family moves into the witch’s cottage, which as been abandoned since the time of the witch, Twig meets her new next-door neighbours, Julia and Agate, and makes her first friend since kindergarten. James is growing more tired and impatient of his solitary life, and he’s starting to take more risks. Things get even more complicated when a “researcher” moves to town. Twig and Julia begin their own research, into the witch’s curse.

Having already given away the wings spoiler, I won’t give away any more; let me just say this is a truly magical book. The writing is beautiful, especially the descriptions of nature, and Twig’s shy-but-strong voice shines through.

The only down side is that the ending felt too rushed, and a couple of the plot points work themselves out far too easily and conveniently. Still, this book will make you want to find more fairy-like tales; it will leave you feeling happy and enchanted.

Mourning Cloak


Note on the covers: they make the book look a lot more juvenile than it is, but don’t let them deter you. Although the book is technically mid-grade (mostly because of the protagonist’s age), it reads much more like YA. IMHO it deserves a cover that reflects this; if it were up to me, it would have a cover more like this one on the right.

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