Not many people can boast of being friends with birds. Eleven-year-old Roy Nuttersley of 44 Orchard Drive, however, can. When Roy’s emotional wellbeing is threatened, the blackbirds will stop at nothing to make sure their faithful friend stays happy. If they don’t succeed and Roy doesn’t have the heart to continue to fill the numerous bird feeders he’s made for them, the blackbirds’ livelihoods will be in jeopardy. But for the blackbirds, failure is not an option.
I received this book from the author for the purpose of this review. All comments and opinions are entirely my own.
I was first intrigued by Sleeping with the Blackbirds by Alex Pearl when I read the description. I love books that delve into the psychology of children’s emotions, especially since they oftentimes struggle to understand what they’re feeling at all. And then add the element of birds’ perspectives? Talk about interesting!
I was not disappointed. I was pulled in by the writing style (most likely because the author is British—that alone gives you enough reason to pick this book up) and I was fascinated with the characters. On the one hand, there’s something caricature-like about them, but on the other hand they feel so real. Every character –from Roy’s parents, the school bully, or the school’s superintendent– had a quirk. No character was two-dimensional. I would say ultimately, each character had a simple, single goal they were working towards. The problems arose when something (or someone…often Roy) stood in their way. All poor, sweet Roy wanted was to be left alone with the birds. But it would take a lot of change to make that happen.
As for the birds, their characterization was nothing short of brilliant. The blackbirds, robins, geese—each type of bird had their own characteristic. The blackbirds were strong leaders; the robins were humble followers; and the geese were conceited and obnoxious. How perfect, right?!
I loved how the blackbirds were clever and creative—realizing Roy was unhappy and coming up with “battleplans” to make him happy. Yet, because they’re birds, they couldn’t fully understand human emotions or the unpredictability of human actions. Throughout the book, the blackbirds are forced to reconvene and find a new way to help Roy.
I only have a few small complaints. Toward the end of the story, the bully (Harry) meets and befriends a young woman in her early twenties and, based on her backstory, I almost thought that Roy was her long-lost brother. Come to find out, he’s not, and when Harry returns home, there are no more interactions with this girl. She had a really intricate backstory that in the end had nothing to do with the rest of the story and it just felt a little odd.
My major complaint is the ending. Overall, the pace was good, but fast. I wouldn’t have minded if Sleeping with the Blackbirds was longer so we could dive even deeper into the characters, but I guess that’s technically a compliment. However, the ending was most definitely rushed. Roy finally received the happily-ever-after he deserved, but it was very abrupt and confusing. I don’t want to spoil, but there’s a twist concerning his past at the end—which I loved!—but the end scene included an element of that past that I hadn’t been expecting (or been given any reason to expect up to that point). Then there was basically no explanation for it. So when the book ended, although it was a beautiful final scene, I didn’t understand the how or why of the situation. Also, Roy’s parents got a happy ending with no justice whatsoever, which just doesn’t seem fair considering how horrible they treated Roy! And honestly, although the birds succeeded in giving Roy happiness, I just realized their personal end goal of making sure he was willing and able to continue to fill the birdfeeders wasn’t fulfilled.
That aside, I really loved this novel. I laughed out loud multiple times (which I rarely do while reading…I usually just smile if something’s funny) and I was very moved at times as well. I really sympathized with Roy’s abusive home and school situations and loved watching him not only stand up for himself, but also know when it was time to forgive and forget.
In conclusion, I give Sleeping with the Blackbirds a fully deserved 5 out of 5 stars. Besides the fast and slightly confusing ending, it was a perfect story. I believe there was one or two curse words and maybe one innuendo, but overall, I would say this book is perfect for middle school and up.