CW: suicide, grief, and depression
Is it sad that I didn’t think I would like this book? No, I’m serious. I didn’t think I would. I even chose it for my Book of the Month in March because it sounded interesting but I wasn’t convinced that it would be good for me.
Boy was I wrong.
I think that this is probably one of the most beautiful and poignant book I’ve read so far this year. It’s definitely in my top reads of this year, even this month. The writing for it is amazing. The story connects deeply on so many levels. The characters are imperfect and incredibly real.
This is the story of Leigh, a girl whose mom commits suicide and then turns into a bird, guiding her to reexamine her life. She travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time, all in search of her mother and what she might have meant in her suicide note.
It’s told through flashbacks to Leigh’s life, her mother’s life, and her grandparent’s life. It tackles the issues of being an immigrant perfectly, of parents wanting to forget the old ways and their families at home. Having looked at immigrants and religion, I know the pattern. Usually, the kids want to go back and relearn the old ways that their parents shrugged off to live a fully American life. That’s what Leigh experiences; that desperate want to go back and discover her heritage while her mother just wants to forget.
The book also gives a gorgeous look at the stigma of mental illness. The different treatments her mom tries to battle her depression, how she sunk away, how it was hidden from her because it was considered “too much for a kid to understand,” and how it inevitably caught up with all of them before they realized what was happening.
While I am rating it five stars, I do have some issues with it. I wasn’t a fan of the magical realism side of things. I loved the bird and the metaphor of it. Religion was blended perfectly to make the religion real and active in the world. But, I didn’t really like the joint flashbacks and how Leigh had flashbacks to things that weren’t her own. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to believe it was going on.
But, that’s minor. That’s very minor. I was so caught up in the story that it didn’t impact my reading. I might have rolled my eyes a little bit or felt a bit like it was a convenient plot device, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and consider it one of my favorite books of the year so far.