Friday, December 06, 2013

Review: Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Title: Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets
Author: Evan Roskos
Publisher: Houghton Miffin Harcourt
Release date: March 5th 2013
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought a signed copy at Books of Wonder!
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Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I had basically no expectations going into Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets. I hadn't heard anything about it; I just happened to see it at the bookstore and bought it because it looked like a quirky, interesting read. And that's exactly what it turned out to be - Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is stunning in an understated kind of way.

I love when books combine serious issues with a hint of humor, blending dark topics with lighthearted scenes seamlessly. Our narrator James is a perfect example of this: he's struggling with his own depression, his complicated relationship with his parents, and with finding out what happened to his sister, all of which is presented in a very emotional and relatable way. Yet there are still scenes that brought a smile to my face, especially the ones between James and his best friend Derek, and between him and the girl he likes, Beth.

The brother-sister relationship in this novel is very well-done - I love when YA books focus on family! Going along with James, trying to figure out what happened to his sister and why she got expelled, is fascinating - Jorie is an intriguing character, and I loved trying to understand her. In a way, I wish we could have known even more about her, but I also appreciate that this is simply James's story.

James's relationship with his peers is just as interesting to read about. These storylines have a very mature feel to them - James has trouble fitting in at school and only has one friend, but this isn't really presented as an issue: that's just the way it is. I really appreciated this drama-less depiction. I loved James's relationship with Derek simply because Derek's problems are so entertaining to read about. And then there's James and Beth. At first, I was afraid this would be the overdone loner-falls-for-misunderstood-popular-girl storyline, and it does have some of those qualities. But this isn't really a romance: James and Beth are just friends. The innocence and purity of their relationship is something I really enjoyed.

But Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets isn't really about James's family, or Beth or Derek. This is simply James's story. It's not about what happens, but more of a character study. The lack of action and the understated feel of this novel might make this a hard sell for some readers, but I for one loved it. If you like character-driven novels that balance serious issues with light-hearted humor, you should definitely give Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets a try!


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