Birdland

by Tracy Mack

Over winter break, Jed is working on a class assignment to record life in his East... read more

Over winter break, Jed is working on a class assignment to record life in his East Village neighborhood on video. The idea is to blend the work of all the students to create a collage of New York City, the parts coming together to make a whole. As he and his best friend, Flyer, work on the project, Jed reveals the fragments of his family’s life, torn apart in the wake of his older brother’s death the previous summer. Zeke, a diabetic who died of insulin shock, seemed to live on the edge with regard to his health. Jed wants to know and understand his brother better, but all that’s left are remnants of his life. Grief over Zeke’s death, and unresolved feelings because of the tension that had existed between Zeke and their doctor father, fills Jed’s home with sadness and silence rather than solace. So Jed looks for answers in the spaces that Zeke once occupied. He likes spending time in Zeke’s room and walking the streets his jazz-loving brother once walked. Above all, he cherishes Zeke’s notebook, filled with his brother’s poems, which offer him insights into Zeke’s thoughts about himself, his family, and the landscape of the neighborhood that Jed has been filming. Part of that landscape is Kiki, a homeless teen who Jed feels is connected to Zeke in some way. After Jed helps her find shelter from a fierce winter storm, Kiki tries to commit suicide, shocking Jed’s family out of their insular pain. In reaching out to help Kiki, they finally start talking, and healing begins. Tracy Mack’s debut novel is full of fresh, beautiful imagery and quietly captures the poignancy of a family numb from grief but on the verge of new awakenings. The wintry setting is perfectly suited to the mood and plot. In Jed, the story features a main character who is Jewish, something fairly unusual in contemporary fiction for children and teenagers. (Ages 12–15)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2004

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