By Caroline Starr Rose
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group USA), March 2015)
Reviewed by Carol Baldwin
This is the reason I love well-written historical fiction: It draws me into a place and time that I am barely familiar with, brushes me with information and imagery, and leaves me wanting to know more.
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose is such a book. Written from the points of view of Alis, the daughter of one of the first British colonists to land at Roanoke Island and Kimi, a Roanoke girl who has lost her father and uncle at the hands of the English, this novel-in-verse creates a plausible backstory of the Lost Colony. The alternating viewpoints are an excellent vehicle to show what it meant to the English and Indians when colonists came to settle the New World. The deep POV makes the reader feel like she could reach out and touch the protagonists; their longings, conflicts, beliefs and fears are exposed to the reader in simple, yet powerful language.
Be warned. In order to share the beauty of Rose’s free verse but at the risk of including some spoilers, this review consists of portions from the novel.
The book opens with the colonists’ arrival at Roanoke and Alis remembering her uncle’s words when he give her a small carving of a bluebird. This snippet foreshadows Alis’ conflicts. He said,
“The graceful bird
its wings rest so daintily.
This Uncle Samuel promised me:
Birds return home
no matter how they fly.
One set free might wander
but will eventually rejoin his flock. (p. 28)
Kimi watches with curiosity as Alis explores the area outside the palisade. Kimi is surprised to find a young girl in their midst; she longs for the her dead sister’s company. But she also deeply mistrust the English. She returns to work with the other women:
“Like the corn,
spreads her roots wide,
like the bean,
settles her roots deep.
If we hope to rid ourselves of them,
push them from us
Once and for all,
We must do it
Before their roots take hold. (p.34)
Their first meeting is poignant. First from Kimi’s viewpoint;
“Her eyes fly to me,
but do not falter,
though she wears panic on her face.
Her skin too delicate,
like a thin-barked tree;
her body bundled,
thick like a caterpillar. (p.45)
Then Alis’ viewpoint:
Markings spiral up her arms,
snake down below her fringed skirt-
the only clothing she wears-
Like fine embroidery stitched into skin.
Copper flashes at her earlobes,
a rope of pearls encircles her neck.
Short hair covers her forehead,
the rest gathered behind.
She studies me. (p. 46)
The author’s notes at the end verified how well Caroline Rose used the minimal facts we know about the Lost Colony and the Roanoke and Croatoan Indians.
Even if you don’t win this book, I hope you will read and/or purchase it for the middle grade girl in your life. The images of friendship, loyalty, and self-sacrifice—and the blue birds themselves– will stay imprinted in your mind long after reading it.
CAROL BALDWIN is a contributing editor to LitChat. Read her complete bio here.