by Deborah Kerbel
Kids Can Press
Hope can take many forms and be elicited in a myriad of ways. For Finch Bennett, an eleven-year-old girl in the summer of 1980–a time of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, the hostage crisis in Iran, and the Rubik’s Cube-she needs to find some hope, somewhere, anywhere. Her father died of cancer less than a year ago, her grieving mother is despondent and oblivious to Finch and her older brother Harrison who is also seemingly indifferent to the young girl, allowing his friend Matt to relentlessly torment her. For Finch, hope might be found in the tiny scar on her neck from which a single white feather had been removed at age 3. With that scar, Finch reassures herself that a better life, perhaps one of feathers and flight, might emerge.
“That night, I dream about my feathers. They’ve grown in all white and fluffy and smooth. And I’m happpy because it means I’m finally able to fly away. I spread my feathered arms and fly up, up, up to where I think I’ll find heaven…where I know I’ll find Daddy.” (pg. 49)With the arrival of their new neighbours, Finch sees another opportunity for hope, especially with making a new friend of eleven-year-old Pinky Nanda. This would be particularly important once dreaded school starts. School is where Finch is called slow and lazy. It’s where she has major difficulties with writing. And it’s where she sees her former best friend, Karen, has blossomed into a young woman and hangs out with similarly pubescent girls. But Pinky and her younger sister Padma are staunchly protected by their parents, who argue about how Punjabi Hindus are treated in Canada and do not permit the girls to interact with others.
“It’s at that moment when I see myself right there in her face. I see a girl who’s trapped in a mess of grown-up problems. A girl who’s struggling just to figure it all out.” (pg. 94)Strangely Finch’s only friend becomes an anonymous writer with whom she communicates on a bathroom stall door. That is, until Finch finds the courage to untether herself and communicate her feelings, good and bad, with those impacting her life.
Deborah Kerbel may have written Feathered as a middle-grade novel but Feathered is much more sophisticated than much pedestrian MG storytelling. The writing is brilliant, demonstrating much depth of spirit and story, taking Finch and the reader beyond the obvious and into the realm of optimism and possibilities, where even a little girl can see that she has it in her to soar above the commonplace and anticipate greatness of action and virtue. Just like Terry Fox, Finch learns to recognize that the will to try is within her and she may or may not succeed, but there’s always the promise that comes with dreaming.