When a being has been a part of your life, here one moment and gone forever the next, you know the world tilts. It does not matter if the death arrives at the end of a terminal illness, as a result of old age or suddenly because of an accident. The hole in your sense of normal seems to have no bottom; your life as you knew it is gone.
There is no set time for recover. Each person works through the loss at their own pace. For those who have experienced this grief, one thing seems to be true, even though it might take time to recognize it, those gone remain. They remain because those left behind remember. We remember exactly what they said, precisely what they did and how they embraced life. With or without intention bits and pieces of them are integrated into how we speak, what we do and how we face all our tomorrows.
Soar (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, July 5, 2016) written by Tracy Edward Wymer follows a seventh-grade boy navigating the waters of life without his father. The day to day experiences in a small town have disadvantages and advantages which come sharply into focus for Eddie. It begins and ends with a bird.
I'm looking for a bird, but not just any old bird. I'm looking for Dad's golden eagle. And I'm not stopping until I find it.
Before Eddie's father dies, he sees a golden eagle out by Miss Dorothy's pond. He claims its
wings were wider than the creek behind our house, and its talons were the size of bulldozer claws.
With no photographic proof, Eddie's dad's claims are eventually thought to be a tall tale or even an untruth. Eddie believes in his father and in this story. Of course, like so many things, the journey from believing in something to proving it is never easy.
The first challenge Eddie encounters is when a spy mission on a new family on his street goes wrong in the worst possible way and his bike, a birthday gift from his dad, is stolen. Beautiful Gabriela and her Papa, deaf, and their stunning macaws, newly moved from Brazil have fascinating gifts to share.
Bullying Eddie since kindergarten, Mouton starts at the school bus stop on day one of seventh grade. His taunts are verbally abusive and his pranks, honey in Eddie's locker (yes he can get into any locker), are hard to ignore. We learn very early in the story of Mouton having Tourette's syndrome.
A birder, like his father, Eddie's science teacher, Mr. Dover announces in their first class about the science symposium. It's a seventh grade tradition. Years earlier Eddie's father won the top prize, a blue-ribbon winner. It's hard to get a true read on Mr. Dover, sometimes he seems like an okay kind of person, other times his behavior is shocking. He is a man of secrets.
The cement which holds Eddie's life together is his mom, a cigarette-smoking, hard-working, firm but fair parent. She is the head janitor at Eddie's school, announcing her presence with the jingle of keys she carries on her belt. The straight-forward conversations shared between her and Eddie clearly explain the love they hold for each other.
As if school and Eddie's life in general could not get more confusing and complicated, when Mr. Dover draws the names to pair people for the science symposium, Eddie's partner is Mouton. A nighttime ninja operation leads to discovering hidden talents, countless trips to Miss Dorothy's property, a fixed Predator, an unexpected agreement, and a fiasco of epic proportions propel readers toward a series of revelations, heartbreaking and heartwarming. Goals are worth pursuing; it's the results we can't predict which change us.
The first person voice of Eddie, the true-to-life conversations between the characters and excerpts in Eddie's birding journal, including remarks to his dad, are techniques used adeptly by Tracy Edward Wymer bringing readers into Eddie's world. We experience firsthand the events in those beginning months of his seventh-grade year. We share his frustrations, his goof-ups, his grief, and his triumphs, silently cheering for him.
Each of the other characters is fully human with their flaws and perfections. Wymer has them move in and out of Eddie's days, coming to the front and center and then stepping back as others move forward, in a smooth rhythm as their stories are woven into Eddie's narrative. Here are some sample passages.
He rested his hand on my shoulder. "If you want to be the best, Son, then you have to be creative. You have to think like a bird. You have to become the bird."
"Become the bird," I said. "What does that mean?"
"You have to ask yourself, if you were that bird, and you were trying to survive, what would you need at that exact moment? Not two days from now, not one week from now, not a year. At that very instant ask yourself what that bird needs. Food? Protection? Nesting materials? Companionship?
"What's 'companionship'?" I asked.
Dad smirked and said, "It's about filling a big, empty hole inside you with feelings for someone else."
"You mean like you and mom?"
He smiles and said, "Exactly."
Bird: great horned owl
Location: Miss Dorothy's place
Note: With Mouton's voice, there is hope for our project.
Dad: Making friends is a tough business. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the trouble.
I'm trying to listen to the music, but it's hard to hear the words.
After two readings in two days, I know Soar written by Tracy Edward Wymer will most definitely find an audience with middle grade readers. The short chapters, realistic conversations and events and multi-layered characters truly sing off the pages like the call of the golden eagle, sharp and clear. I look forward to recommending this title.
To learn more about Tracy Edward Wymer and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Tracy Edward Wymer maintains Tumblr pages and a Twitter account @TracyEWymer Tracy Edward Wymer is featured on a Successful Author Talk post and BookPage. He is a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. for a book trailer premiere. You can read an excerpt at the publisher's website.