Book Review: Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

UnknownAbout halfway through this book, I stopped reading, found the author on Twitter, and messaged her: Rare Bird is breathtaking. Thank you! 

Indeed, Rare Bird is the brilliant, heartbreaking, yet somehow encouraging memoir of a mother coming to terms with the death of her twelve-year-old son, Jack, and her struggle to keep life afloat with her husband Tim and ten-year-old daughter, Margaret. Sound sad? It is…and yet less so than you might imagine. Real is a better word. Whiston-Donaldson writes in a voice that makes you feel like you’re having a conversation. Highs and lows and laughter are mixed throughout, scattershot, the way they happen in life. And yes, the through line of Jack’s death is devastating, but in a way that is worth every page and every tear. Rare Bird has shot to the top of my “favorite memoirs” pile. (Kudos to publisher Convergent Books – the editors there are consistently putting out sharp, well-written, well-shaped memoirs. They’re my new go-to in faith-based nonfiction.)

One of my favorite things about this book is how vividly the author describes herself and her family–I can picture them (party because I’ve seen pictures on her website) but more than that, I feel like I know them. She offers so much nuance and shares small moments and reactions that make them into 3-D people, rather than just strangers going through a difficult time.  And some of the chapters make such good points about life, I just wrote “Wow” at the top of the page.

I love this, from the introduction:

“I think maybe [the story of Jack’s death] is more of a universal story than I realized. The story of a woman who has suffered profound, crushing disappointment, whose plan didn’t pan out, whose heart has been broken by life, and who is wondering if she’s alone in her pain.”

Rare Bird is all this and more.  Highly recommend.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I plan to buy several copies–one for everyone I know who is struggling with questions of disappointment, loss, and faith. So I think the publisher was brilliant in getting me hooked on this book early in the publishing cycle.

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