THINGS SEEM FROM ABOVE
by Shelley Pearsall (Knopf, February 4, 2020)
Joey Byrd is a boy on the fringes, who wanders the playground alone, dragging his foot through the dirt. But over time, April realizes that Joey isn’t just making random circles. When you look at his designs from above, a story emerges… Joey’s “bird’s eye” drawings reveal what he observes and thinks about every day.
Told in alternating viewpoints–April’s in text and Joey’s mostly in art–the story gives the “whole picture” of what happens as these two outsiders find their rightful places.
Joey Byrd looked like he was dead.The Mafioso's Thoughts:
I'm not joking.
Pretty much everybody at Marshallville Elementary knew who Joey Byrd was.
You could be walking to lunch or gym class, and suddenly you'd notice this pale-haired boy lying flat on the hallway tiles--arms out, eyes closed--as if he'd just been struck by a bolt of lightning. Usually a teacher would be standing nearby trying to coax him to get up and motioning for everyone else to go around, saying, "Just ignore him. Keep moving."
The Don and I have found a new favorite author. Shelley Pearsall hit this dual narrative out of the park. Most of the chapters are in April's first person POV, with interspersed third person chapters from Joey's POV. We get a well-rounded view of both of these central characters.
April is, quite simply, a delight. She's empathetic, intelligent, reflective and also full of that 6th grade worry of "what are others thinking about me?" and "do I fit in?" It is totally believable that she would choose to help out on the "buddy bench" rather than dealing with the stresses and strains of the lunch room. Joey, on the other hand, is a "rare bird," as designated by Mr. Ulysses, the genial janitor. I'm not sure of the type of learning differences he has, but he has an uncanny ability to trace patterns on the ground as if "seen from above." Initially disliked for his differences, he becomes as person of interest as his artwork gains notice from the town, eventually leading to a beautiful scene at the high school homecoming game.
This is a tremendous story about kids who don't quite fit in. I'll quote Mr. Ulysses, who hits the nail on the head:
"...every once in a while, a rare bird shows up. They are kids like Joey with something different, something unique, something unfamiliar about them--kids who land here for a short period of time to see if anybody notices them.... Usually no one does. Anything that is different or unusual makes most people uncomfortable. They stay away as far as they can. And before long, the rare bird gives up and moves on, and nobody knows the possibilities that they just missed." (page 234)This is made all the more poignant because Shelley Pearsall's nephew, Miles, was the inspiration for the novel. Each one of us, I'm sure, has come across a rare bird in our lives, either as relatives, or friends, or students. When we are young, we often don't know how to proceed ("anything that is different or unusual makes most people uncomfortable"). We are often thoughtless, if not cruel. With maturity, hopefully, we come to appreciate the gifts of the rare birds among us.
The art work, by Xingye Jin, is magnificent. With the Don's blessing, I'm going in search of more Shelley Pearsall!
About the Author (from Random House author page and from Shelley's website):
A former teacher and museum historian, Shelley Pearsall is now a full-time author. Her first novel, Trouble Don’t Last, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Her latest book was The Seventh Most Important Thing, which earned three starred reviews and was named an ALA Notable Book. Shelley lives in Ohio's beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park with her British husband, Mike, and their shelter cat named Charlie. When Shelley isn’t writing or visiting schools, Shelley and Mike love to travel the world in search of new stories and adventures. To learn more about the author and her work, visit her WEBSITE