Alice Hoffman: Nightbird (2015)

Hoffman Nightbird Book Cover

Publication date: 2015

Pages: 199

Word count: 40,777

Ages: MG 8 – 12

I’ve always been a huge fan of Alice Hoffman’s novels for adults but so far I’ve never read any of her books for children. Nightbird was the first. What a lovely, lovely book. I still pick it up and reread passages. I loved the setting, the rich, evocative descriptions. And the story. It is one of those books I didn’t want to end.

Twig lives with her beautiful mother in Sidwell, Massachusetts. They live in a farmhouse, outside of the village, where they grow pink apples. Her mother is a baker who is famous for her pink apple pies and lavender honey butter. Twig and her mother are outsiders in the small town. By choice. They are hiding a secret. A long, long time ago their family was cursed by a witch who lived in Mourning Dove cottage. The cottage has been abandoned until this summer when Julia and Agate and their parents move in. Twig’s mother doesn’t want Twig to become friends with the girls, who are about her age, but Twig’s been lonely for too long. She disregards the warning and, unintentionally, sets in motion a course of events that endanger her family and reveal their secret.

The lovely description and story would have been enough for me to love this book but the many wonderful messages made me love it even more. It explores the fate of outsiders, the “making” of monsters and the importance of preserving our flora and fauna.

To give you an idea of the lovely writing, here’s a passage from pages 47/48:

Instead of walking home on the road, where the Hall girls might catch up with me, I went through the Montgomery Woods. People said there were still bears in Sidwell, but I’d never run across one. I had spied raccoons and skunks and foxes, and I’d run across moles, which were shyer than I was, and boisterous turkeys. I must have looked like a twig to them, too, because they all ignored me.

Even though the Montgomerys had bought a huge section of the woods, aside from the old estate where they vacationed sometimes, it was still wilderness all around, no different than it had been hundreds of years earlier. Streams of lemony-yellow sunlight drifted in between the branches. There were ferns and swamp cabbage growing in the boggy places, stretches of watery land that were so darkly green they looked black. I found some bushes with thin fairy branches filled with wild raspberries that had ripened early. I picked some to bring home to James, and kept them in my pockets on the way back. I made a loop-deloop around the owl nesting grounds.

I know that I didn’t do this book justice. It sometimes happens when I like a book a great deal. I just can’t find the right words to convey how much I love it. It’s a wonderful book for anyone who loves an uplifting, warm, magical tale, told by a gentle, endearing character.