Well, friends, as I feared, the orchard has taken over my life!! It’s been several years since we had a decent crop of peaches, but this year it’s a bonanza!! We have peaches, plums, nectarines, and blackberries EVERYWHERE! We’re always short-staffed at the beginning of the season because the hours are all over the place and it can be hard to find people who are interested in just working for a couple of months. Since I absolutely love the people who own this orchard and since I only live a mile away, I end up filling a lot of gaps!! Surprisingly, although I’ve eaten several peaches every day for the last three weeks, I’m still not tired of them. They are SO DELICIOUS. So take a road trip to central Ohio and get your fix!! :-D
In the meantime, I honestly haven’t been reading nearly as much as I usually do. However, I did have this review copy of The Nature of Small Birds that I finished last week and have been meaning to post about. I enjoyed this gentle story about a family who adopted a young girl from Vietnam, yet it somehow failed to really stir a great deal of emotion for me.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adoptive family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival into their lives.
Though her father supports Mindy’s desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he’ll lose the daughter he’s poured his heart into. Mindy’s mother undergoes the emotional roller coaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy’s sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family–but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.
Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.
The three timelines are Mindy’s adopted father, Bruce, in present day/2013; Mindy’s adopted mother, Linda, in 1975; and Mindy’s adopted sister, Sonny, in 1988. Choosing to not have Mindy – the actual Vietnamese girl who was adopted – be one of the narrative voices was an interesting choice to me. I can see why the author made that choice, but it also kept me distanced from the character who seemed like she should be the center of the story. I never felt like I really knew Mindy or understood her choices – but it almost didn’t matter because she honestly didn’t make a lot of choices in this story. Things happened to her a lot more than she made things happen.
From the synopsis, I expected more of the story to focus on Mindy’s search for her birth family in Vietnam, but in reality that was a very small part of the story. In the present day, Bruce is wrestling with the failing health of his parents, which frequently took precedence over Mindy’s search. In 1975, Linda is struggling to please her strict, overbearing mother-in-law while still doing what she believes is right – adopt a child from Vietnam despite Bruce’s mother’s outrage – Bruce’s brother was killed in Vietnam during the war, and his mother can’t believe that they are willing to adopt “one of them.” Sonny’s storyline takes place when she is a senior in high school/the summer right after her graduation (Mindy is a couple years younger) and is a lot about Sonny realizing that even though they all love Mindy a lot, they can never truly understand the difficulties and prejudices she will always face.
Each of these storylines was perfectly interesting and pleasant, but there never was any zing to the story. It was a very straightforward narrative without a lot of complications, but in many ways it felt rather directionless. At the end of the story, I just wasn’t sure what the “point” had been. This was especially emphasized by the fact that Bruce’s mother treats Mindy like garbage consistently across all three timelines, yet no one else in the family ever actually stands up for Mindy or tells Bruce’s mother to shape up. I was very disappointed by the way this was presented, that basically it felt like everyone was willing to compromise on Mindy’s well-being for the sake of peace within the family. Sometimes, there are reasons that there shouldn’t be peace in your family, and treating a child cruelly is definitely one of them. This aspect of the story really brought down my overall enjoyment of the book.
I have mixed feelings about whether or not I would actually recommend this book. It was an interesting look at a piece of history (Operation Babylift) that I hadn’t really heard much about before, and it was a perfectly fine story. However, I honestly found it rather boring in places because the story wasn’t actually going anywhere, and there were just too many instances of Bruce’s mother being a jerk and no one saying anything about it for me to really like this book or consider rereading it at any point. In the end, it’s 3* for this one, and another case of a book I wanted to like more than I did.