Review: Feathered by Deborah Kerbel

Welcome to Night Vale meets teenage reality.

Publication Date: 1st April 2016
Publisher: Kids Can Press

Feathered fell rather flat for me. I started off enjoying it, and I genuinely think that the more books about child carers available the better, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. What promised to be a book about dealing with grief, and dealing with a surviving parent who isn’t coping turned out two-dimensional. The most moving moment in the novel, when heroine, Finch, tells her mother that she “needs her to be alive” is incredibly poignant – unfortunately, I felt that the rest of the novel lets that moment down.

The writing is clear and enjoyable, although the plot tries to fit too many things into 148 pages. The main character is likeable and her story of bullying, difficulty in school, and juggling a chaotic home life is a sympathetic one. The ending is hopeful for Finch and her family, and Kerbel has managed to create a realistic picture of depression and 11-year-old confusion/inherent understanding of that internal turmoil.

What really ruined it for me was the use of the character of Pinky. What could have been a meaningful encounter with what it means to be Indian growing up in a white neighbourhood, is instead a collection of stereotypes with no meaningful exploration. When Pinky says that she’s “different” and Finch says “I know how that feels,” I wanted to sit her down and explain racism to her. I understand that the character is meant to be 11, but what’s the point of creating an auxiliary Indian friend (because that’s what she is) if it’s not to present the particular nuances of racism? In fact, Finch just uses Pinky and her family’s difficult adjustment to a country where they are victims of hate crime, in order to realise her dream of flying.

It’s difficult to recommend this novel unreservedly, due to its simplistic approach to the issues it tries to raise. I feel like anyone with an understanding of them will feel cheated, and anyone without one should be reading better books about them. It is generally an entertaining read, but nothing really special.

 

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