Gradle Bird
by J. C. Sasser

Koehler Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-633-93263-0.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 04/04/2017

Teen/Girls; Fiction: Literary

Does family history matter? Maybe not, but it certainly can solve mysteries and diminish obsessive thoughts, at least in J. C. Sasser's beautifully written YA, Gradle Bird. Of course a bit of magic doesn't hurt.

Sixteen-year-old Gradle Bird has lived with her Grandpa, Leonard, all of her life. They are at a seedy motel off Georgia's I-16 when Leonard receives a notice that the county is about to tear down a crumbling old house that is part of his past. He moves there, taking Gradle with him. Though they are not affectionate, they are each other's only family.

The house is haunted by the ghost of a woman named Annalee Spivey, the first woman Leonard ever loved. As soon as he climbs the ladder to the attic, he can see her and dances with her in a long-awaited reunion. When Gradle looks in the attic, though, she sees her grandpa dancing with air.

In her new home town Gradle meets two teen boys, Ceif Walker, a crippled, Bible-thumping hobo and Sonny Joe Stitch, who saved Ceif once despite his usual self-interest. She also meets the "only true friend" she will ever know, a schizophrenic genius, D-5 Delvis Miles. As Gradle falls deeper into Delvis's imaginary and fantastical world, unsettling dangers rise up, waiting to pull her in.

I loved being pulled into this mysterious world of love, loss, hope, magic, and ghosts. Gradle Bird is a tale of self-discovery and redemption set in a bizarre world. It explores jealousy, fatherly love, the complexities of human cruelty, and the consequences of guilt. Joy and tears mix in this coming of age tale, which is beautifully rendered in Sasser's evocative prose.

J. C. Sasser has worked as an envelope licker, tortoise tagger, lifeguard, Senate page, model, editor, water-polo coach, marine biologist, plant grower, software consultant, and 6-Sigma Black Belt. Gradle Bird was a short list finalist in the 2015 William Faulkner-William Wisdom novel competition, and her other writing credits include the short story and screenplay, The Pigeon Catcher (Ceiba Productions 2002). She lives in an old barn on Edisto Island, SC with her husband, Thomas, along with their two sons, T.C. and Robert Esten, and two dogs, Cro and Blue Moon June.

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