That may be all you need to know about his home life. But here’s some more: his parents threw his older sister out of the house. All James wants is for her parents to allow Jorie back in the house. Well, and for the school to un-expell her so she can graduate high school.
As for high school — well, James loves Walt Whitman poetry so Yawps a lot. He has been known to hug a tree. And then there’s the time when he tried to impress a girl, Beth King, by saving a bird and ended up getting hit by a school bus. Oh, and he managed to save a Tastykake wrapper. Not a bird.
He does have one friend: Derek.
And then there’s Dr. Bird. His imaginary therapist, who is a large pigeon.
Dr. Bird, Derek, Beth, Jorie — it’s not a lot of people, especially since one is imaginary, one is real but will be graduating soon, one doesn’t know he exists, another is missing. But it’s a start.
The Good: Oh, all the layers of plot that connect!
There is the mystery of why Jorie was expelled from high school. For James to figure out the mystery, he must learn more about Jorie. You’d think, with just one year difference between them, that he’d know his sister. And he thought he did. When Beth asks him about Jorie’s poetry, James discovers his sister wrote for the literary magazine and this starts James finding out more about his sister. To do that, James has to take a closer look at himself and his family.
The reader knows that if James calls his parents the Brute and the Banshee, his home life is not simple and happy. Whether the labels are that of an angry teen, or deserved, is revealed slowly. James doesn’t even quite realize, or acknowledge, the full dynamics of his family. James — like other teens — is recognizing the way his family works and his own role in it. Yes, they are deserving of the labels Brute and Banshee — but enough is shown of their own pasts to show how they ended up the way they are. And that they aren’t just their label.
What James wants is to get his sister back. This forces him into action, with one thing leading to another. His wanting to learn more about his sister’s poetry leads him to being involved with the literary magazine, using his own poetry and photographs. He wants to see a therapist, recognizing his own anxiety and depression needs more than in imaginary pigeon (even if Dr. Bird’s advice is sometimes good), but to do so needs a job, so starts working at a pizza place with Derek.
So one step in James’s life leads to more steps, that both open up his world but also result in James own personal growth, including the steps he takes for his own depression. And that those steps are more than “make friends, get out of your house, find a hobby” (all things that James does in fact end up doing) — they are meeting with a therapist (a real one) and using that.
This is a Favorite Book Read in 2014 — because of James and Jorie. And the yawps. And Roskos’s writing. And the way that therapy is shown, not as “the” answer, but as part of James’s life.