October 09, 2017

The Theory of Hummingbirds

Written by Michelle Kadarusman
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-027-7
160 pp.
Ages 8-12
September 2017


Middle-grader Alba has always been defined by Cleo.  Cleo is her left foot, the foot with talipes equinovarus, a deformity formerly known as club foot.  She has endured multiple treatments and restrictions on what she can and cannot do but, with her most recent surgery, Alba is convinced the normalcy she has always craved is almost upon her.  She is sure that, once her cast is removed, she will be able to shed her timekeeper role and run in the year-end cross-country race.
The idea of being NORMAL hovered ahead of me like a glittering, shining new world–a place that I had never been allowed into.  Somehow I knew that if I could just run in the race like everyone else, it would prove that I deserved to be there–in magical Normal Land. (pg. 48)
Alba is adamant that she will run and so, when best friend Levi isn't an enthusiastic supporter of her plans–he's wrapped up in proving there's a wormhole in the librarian's office–she lashes out, calling him weird and his ideas stupid.  Even Coach and her doctor caution her about making plans before they see how the foot has healed and how the physiotherapy works.  Sadly, in her efforts to get that normal life, she twists the truth, manipulates her mother and almost loses a friend. She may see herself as fierce but, like the hummingbird of the title, she can be vicious. Alba's story may not turn out as she plans, in a blaze of running glory with new friends, but it's closer than you think, resolving  itself appropriately and ultimately better for Alba, Cleo, Levi and others than expected.  

Alba is like the hummingbirds of the title.  Most people would see them as delicate creatures, perhaps fragile and vulnerable. But Alba and Levi, hummingbird aficionados, know that the little birds are not always what they seen.  They can be intense, even ferocious, not unlike Alba herself.  While the birds' behaviour is driven by survival, Alba's may be the same, or as she feels it to be so, especially when she doesn't get the reactions she wants or the outcomes she desires.  Fortunately, she gets some valuable guidance from friends and family about appreciating herself and being the best person she can be, regardless of things which might hold her back.

The Theory of Hummingbirds is Michelle Kadarusman's first middle-grade novel (Her first book, Out of It (Lorimer, 2014), was written for young adults.) and she's made it reader friendly in more than just vocabulary and content.  Her characters are both sensitive and gritty, as the need requires, and neither goody-goody nor reprehensible.  In other words, they are real children with strengths and challenges.  Because she underwent a series of surgical procedures to correct her own congenital talipes equinovarus, Michelle Kadarusman writes from experience.  Hence Alba's determination and drive for normalcy is written with authenticity and reads the same.  If  there's a lesson to learn, it's that seeing the hummingbirds and Alba and Levi and others only one way does a disservice to them and anyone.  We are all far more than our greatest challenge or weakness or even strength.  For that, on this day, we should all be ever thankful.

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