The Meaning of Birds/Le Secret du Colibri – YA Book Recommendation

June Pride is upon us. And I am mourning the cancelation of New York’s March for the first time in 50 years. And it is their 50th anniversary! I have attended every year since moving here. But I still have the pleasure of spotlighting lgbtqia+ books on this blog during June. I read this one in French as the author kindly sent me two French copies (one published in Canada and one in France) for our bilingual school library. The original was written in English.

Title: The Meaning of Birds/Le Secret du Colibri

Author: Jaye Robin Brown

 Publisher: Harper Collins, 2019

Ages: 14+/YA

Themes: loss, death, grief, lesbians, lgbtqia+, suicidal thoughts, homophobia, trans phobia, fat-shaming, latin lesbian, sexual assault, #ownvoices

Opening:

Des mains, des coeurs, des câlins.

Synopsis:

Before, Jessica has always struggled with anger issues, but come sophomore year that all changes when Vivi crashes into her life. As their relationship blossoms, Vivi not only helps Jess deal with her pain, she also encourages her to embrace her talent as an artist. And for the first time, it feels like the future is filled with possibilities. After In the midst of senior year, Jess’s perfect world is erased when Vivi suddenly passes away. Reeling from the devastating loss, Jess pushes everyone away, and throws out her plans to go to art school. Because art is Vivi and Vivi is gone forever.

Desperate for an escape, Jess gets consumed in her work-study program, letting all of her dreams die. Until she makes an unexpected new friend who shows her a new way to channel her anger, passion, and creativity. Although Jess may never draw again, if she can find a way to heal and room in her heart, she just might be able to forge a new path for herself without Vivi.

Why I like this book:

If you like sad contemporary YA that still ends with hope, this is the book for you. Jess’s grief is palpable, and you can envisage the initial crush and development of the relationship through to its tragic end. From the cover I was expecting pure romance, which really it isn’t. It is, though, a really special book on grief and loss and one girl’s journey through it.

One of the strengths for me of this novel was the way the story was structured. The author alternates between past and present, revealing the falling in love and relationship evolution, alternating with the chapters after Vivi’s death. This plunged the reader into the moment by moment grief yet with the respite of the chapters about the burgeoning of lesbian love. The book chronicles the whole relationship to the point when Vivi dies. This structure allows for the reader to enter more fully into Jess’s grief process, I think.

Jess as a main character is so wonderfully flawed. She has anger issues and was in therapy for it but after Vivi’s death this not surprisingly flares up again. As with many going though raw grief, she uses good and less healthy means to process, including alcohol and weed. So much about Jess feels authentic, even down to her unhealthy pushing/trying to manipulate her girlfriend into having sex when she wasn’t ready. There are so many different kinds of secondary characters that we get to know during this story and all of them (Jess’ best friend Cheyanne, her sister Nina, her new friend Levi, and even her cat, Emma Watson) are all fully fleshed out and add something to Jess’s storyline.

There are so many different kinds of characters that we get to know during this story and all of them really add something important to Jess’s storyline. I especially appreciated the relationship between Jess and Greer. A healthy, non-familial, adult-teen friendship isn’t something you see in a lot of books. They are employer and employee, but there’s a real connection there, and I think that’s really important. Having this gay married couple be such an important part of the storyline added an important depth.

The relationship with her mom and the mom’s wisdom about grief and how to walk through it is lovely. The diversity of characters is great. There are several people of color, and queer characters. Also one character is ace and gets some flac for that.

I’d highly recommend this book on queer love and loss.

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2 Responses to The Meaning of Birds/Le Secret du Colibri – YA Book Recommendation

  1. Patricia Nozell says:

    So, so sad that the parade is cancelled, but in a bright spot, many protesters yesterday congregated near the Stonewall Tavern – my son shared photos with us. Presumably, they will continue to do so throughout the month. And I’m so happy that you’re reviewing new lgbtqia+ books this month.

  2. Joanna says:

    Pat, that is encouraging news. Thanks for sharing.

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