Lately I've been having trouble finding fiction that I want to read. After spending several days skimming the first few chapters of book after book and then casting it aside, I gave myself a project: to find works of fiction that mention birds in the title, read them whether they're good or bad...and then tell everyone about it. It's a bonus if birds are actually relevant to the story.
Sometimes, when I'm browsing at Barnes and Noble in the vicinity of the young adult shelves, I feel a bit jealous at how the field has progressed since I was a youth myself. It seems like back in my day, the only choices were lite and frothy selections like Sweet Valley High, or books on Serious Problems, such as Go Ask Alice. Sure, there were a few exceptions, but overall, the situation was so dire that I raced to the adult section as soon as I hit junior high, and never looked back.
Today, on the other hand, the young adult shelves are heavy with books that I probably would have loved when I was a teen. Some, such as The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2012), still sound interesting to me today. And since my Entitled to Birds project gives me the perfect excuse for reading it, I am happy to report that this one is a keeper for old and young adults alike.
The story begins with sixteen-year-old Blue sitting in an abandoned churchyard at midnight with one of her aunts. Blue comes from a family of psychics; she has no specific talent herself, but is somehow able to magnify the frequency for other people, so that unworldly phenomena are stronger when she is around. The two are holding vigil on Saint Mark's eve, when the souls of everyone who will die in the next year are supposed to walk by.
On this particular night, she is surprised to see a spirit herself, who identifies himself as "Gansey" before fading away. Being told that seeing his spirit means that either she will kill him or fall in love with him is especially ominous, as Blue's family have always predicted that if she kisses her true love, he will die.
The story cuts to the living Gansey, who is one of the "Raven Boys" attending a local boarding school for the rich and privileged. Gansey is a decent sort, although he frequently appears to be condescending to others because of his family wealth. He is fascinated by ley lines and the legend of a Welsh king named Glendower who, like Arthur, is supposed to wake again at some point in the future.
Blue joins up with Gansey and his friends -- the volatile Ronan, scholarship boy Adam, and the shy Noah -- as they look for the magic that will lead them to the Welsh king. Only it turns out that they are not the only ones who are interested, and the pursuit of legends can be a dangerous undertaking.
You know what I loved when I was a teenager? Ley lines, Welsh legends, spunky heroines, ghosts, psychics, mysteries--in other words, all the stuff in this book. Luckily, as an adult, I still found it a really fun read. Highly recommended to everyone who enjoys a good fantasy adventure story.
Oh, and for the bird tie-in:
One of the "Raven boys" actually finds a raven fledgling to nurture. He names her Chainsaw:
And it was not just a raven, Gansey saw. It was a tiny foundling, featherless mouth still a baby's smile, wings still days and nights and days away from flight. He wasn't sure he would want to touch something that looked so easily destroyable.The raven was Glendower's bird. The Raven King, he was called, from a long line of kings associated with the bird. Legend had it that Glendower could speak to ravens, and vice versa. It was only one of the reasons why Gansey was here in Henrietta, a town known for its ravens. His skin prickled.