Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull
Goodreads: Summer and Bird
Summary: One morning, Summer and Bird wake up to find that their parents are gone. The only clue is a picture note from their mother, which leads them into the forest and then Down into the kingdom of the birds. But Summer and Bird have different souls and so they decided to take different paths. In the end, they must help restore order to Down by defeating the usurper Puppeteer and finding the queen. If they do not, their parents and the birds might be lost forever.
Review: Summer and Bird is one of those unexpected books, one that is so lyrical and so differently magical that a summary can never prepare the reader adequately. For, in plot, this book is about two girls who go on an adventure through a strange bird land to find their mother whom they never knew was partly swan. Yet in essence, it is something else, for it strives to make its unique prose and philosophy as important as the action; in fact, the philosophy Summer and Bird learn are essential to making the action happen.
Whether the approach is a complete success is a question that must be answered by each reader personally. In my opinion, the writing is gorgeous and often musical. It falls short only sometimes in the dialogue, when characters who are clearly supposed to be sounding other worldly simply sound a bit dull. Repeating vague statements does not actually make one sound profound.
The philosophy is a bit more problematic. Something about the thoughts presented ring, not false, but not exactly true either. The text speaks about souls, true selves, right paths, the truth, etc. It generally sounds beautiful and as if part of it ought to be right, but none of it ever fully clicked with my worldview. Other readers will have to judge for themselves.
The characters also do not click precisely, but neither are they supposed to. This is a story about the characters, not one that invites the reader to become their best friend, and that tone was exactly right for this tale. Summer and Snow have moments of seeming much older than their ages, as they ought to in a book where they are called to be much more than they might have thought they were. Yet often they are very much just little kids. This is appropriate, and true. Will a middle grade audience love them for it? I do not know. But it certainly helps this book be an utterly charming read for adults, as does the poignant ending.
Summer and Snow is more an experience than an action-packed adventure. Readers are invited Down where the world is beautiful and magical but completely strange. Like Summer and Snow’s father, the readers are only human, and Down is a world for birds. For a moment, we are let in to learn about their culture, their history, and their truths. But this world is never homey, and we are not part of the Great Conversation. That is quite enough, however, and just about as it ought to be.
Publication Date: October 2, 2012