How to describe GRADLE BIRD? I’ve been trying to come up with the right word since I finished reading the book. Is it unique? Touching? Quirky? Weird? Depressing? Uplifting? Enlightening?
It’s all of the above, I say and, in the next breath, I have to stress that GRADLE BIRD is the most unusual read I’ve had in a very long time. The title is the main character’s name. Sixteen-year-old Gradle lives in a motel in rural Georgia with her catatonic grandfather. When fate moves them into a house that may or may not be haunted but is a page out of the grandfather’s past, their lives change. Gradle makes friends; her grandfather romances a ghost. Letters with secret pictures pass between the characters. Flash-backs take us into the past and illuminate the present.
By definition, Southern Gothic style focuses on damaged, even delusional characters. And yes, GRADLE BIRD does that. Odd, though, I didn’t find it horrifying or dark. Once I got past wondering what was real and what was not, I was genuinely invested in colorful characters and genuine emotions. Moreover, the characters’ growth makes this, ultimately, an uplifting book.
J.C. Sasser has talent. Her prose beautifully portrays the minds of her characters. Her pacing is spot-on. Even the fantastical elements work.
Some reviews call GRADLE BIRD a coming of age story, and it is, but it’s so much more. It’s about a way of life I can only imagine – about love and loss, which is such a universal theme. It took me a while to figure out this book, but that’s my failing, not the author’s. I’ve never met characters like these before – characters who are totally rural, totally poor, totally uneducated but smart as whips. This book offered me a haunting glimpse into a different world. As dysfunctional as these characters were at times, they did have happy moments. In that sense, reading about them was humbling.
A friend recommended this book to me (THANK you, Laura!), saying she would be curious to know what I thought. What I think … is that it’s worth the read.