Title: The Nature of Small Birds
Author: Susie Finkbeiner
Major Themes: Vietnam War, Operation Babylift, Split-Time Novels, Adoption
Synopsis: The story of a family learning to love and care for a daughter adopted from Vietnam during Operation Babylift.
A year or two ago, Mom read The Stories That Bind Us. I thought it looked interesting, but ultimately never picked it up—although I still hope to! Since then, however, I’ve tried to keep an eye out for more of Susie Finkbeiner’s books, and The Nature of Small Birds popped up on my “possible review options” list not too long ago. This is a great book! Quite different from many other fictitious books I’ve read, but different in a wonderful way. I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience of this story—sometimes that’s somewhat “meh”, but this time, it was really good. And even though I ended up almost cramming this story in the end, so I could finish reading before the deadline, I still enjoyed it. Now I want to go back and re-read it!
Bruce loves his family and is delighted to be in retirement and get to be a more engaged grandparent now. Life is sweet—aside from his middle daughter’s marriage struggles, and his mother’s steady decline in her health.
Jumping back forty years, for Linda, Bruce’s wife, life is full and wonderful. And when they decide to try to adopt a child, she can’t wait to love on the new member in their household. Then they get a phone call from the adoption agency—would they be willing to take in a little Vietnamese girl whose first adoptive parents have rejected because of the impetigo on her face?
And then jumping to approximately the middle of the two timeframes, in the 80s, Sonny is a mostly happy teenager looking forward to heading off to college and finding her way in the world. Life has changed since they adopted her sister Mindy, but there’s no doubt that she loves her—despite the struggles they have to get along sometimes.
This book follows the three different storylines, each around 15-20 years apart. I loved watching the characters grow and mature through those different times—from when they were fairly young in the 70s, up to 2013, when Bruce and Linda have become grandparents. I’ve rarely read a split-time novel before, so it feels like a new genre to me, even though the historical fiction side of it felt very familiar. I remember Lynn Austin’s two books, Waves of Mercy and Legacy of Mercy, which I think were also split-time novels—but that genre is mostly rare and far between in my reading diet. So seeing that done in here—and done well. Wow. I’d love to write something like that!
The Nature of Small Birds is a lovely family story. Following the three different characters as they changed and grew throughout many years was special. I’ve always been interested in adoption stories—something about that has always tugged at my heartstrings—so I loved getting to see that here, even if it was in a fictitious setting. This isn’t a romance, although there is some naturally occurring romance with the married couple in the story as well as some teenage dates (mostly nothing serious). It’s a family’s story of learning to love and help each other, even when it wasn’t comfortable or easy to do. I enjoyed the book—it’s quite different from many other books I’ve read, setting-wise, and has a strong faith element along with everything else. I could easily imagine re-reading this at some point!
I was given a review copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: Multiple times there are words or phrases used that I don’t appreciate (sometimes just once, sometimes multiple times in a chapter): For Pete’s sake in ch. 2 and 26; gosh in ch. 3, 4, 10, 13, 18, 27, and 37; goodness in ch. 5, 6, 18, 26, 30, 32, 34, 37, and 46; darn in ch. 6, 7, 16, 21, 24, 40, 46, and 47; my word in ch. 10 and 33, good heavens in ch. 15, doggone in ch. 16, golly in ch. 23, and for pity’s sake in ch. 35. Women’s things are mentioned in ch. 2. A man hints at the marriage bed in ch. 14. Unmarried people touch in ch. 6, 12, and a touch and a kiss in 48. A boy ogled a girl in ch. 30, and another boy and girl flirted. In ch. 44, a character looks at an old outfit that “drew all the wrong kinds of attention.” There’s a kiss (married people) in ch. 33 and 46. There is some talk about the Vietnam War in ch. 2 and 8, and multiple times there are mentions that a man was killed in Vietnam. Several times there are references to American soldiers hooking up with Vietnamese women and getting them pregnant—ch. 10 and 25. In ch. 24, a man’s deformities from World War II were briefly described. Halloween is talked about quite a bit in ch. 25 in a good light. A character tells of her divorce and later remarriage in ch. 45.
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15, 15 and Above, Adults