Lynn: Many of us hate change, but 12-year-old Charlie really hates it. The Someday Birds (2017) by Sally J. Pla begins with Charlie’s widowed father, who suffered a head wound in Afghanistan, being transferred from San Diego to a hospital in Virginia to undergo a new treatment. And so Charlie finds himself on a cross-country road trip with his older sister, his younger twin brothers, and a scary, pink-haired babysitter with a mysterious connection to Charlie’s dad.
Charlie, who seems to be on the autism spectrum, hates travel, tags in clothes, any food but chicken nuggets, being touched, and so much more. He comforts himself by washing his hands and looking at birds, by which he is deeply fascinated. But even these consolations are not quite enough to override the chaos of the family road trip or his gnawing worry about his father.
I loved Charlie’s wonderful voice as much as I loved Pla’s warm, funny depiction of his boisterous family. Charlie’s quirks, coping techniques, and unique perspective on life gave him an endearing authenticity—a quality that can be said of all the characters in this touching story.
Cindy: I’m eager to get the opinion of my middle-school students on this one. The jacket recommends it to fans of Counting by 7s and Fish in a Tree, and I can always use another book to suggest to fans of those titles.
Charlie is another well-realized character on the spectrum, but really, the situations he encounters on this trip would fluster any 12-year-old boy. Charlie has a wealth of knowledge about birds and some chapter openings quote a fictional ornithologist that Charlie admires whose observations apply to humans as well as birds. For instance:
Birds are usually quite cooperative among members of their own family—
but as with any generalization, there are always exceptions.
Indeed. Try traveling cross-country in an aging, cramped camper with three siblings, a three-legged dog, and a Bosnian refugee while your own strict routine is disrupted beyond recognition. Charlie does pretty darn well, considering. You’ll want to come along for the heartwarming and humorous ride.