Monday, December 26, 2011

The Aviary By Kathleen O’Dell

Unable to leave the house because of a heart condition, eleven-year-old Clara can’t wait to watch the children come home from school through the windows of the mansion she’s trapped in or listen to them talking outside the garden wall. She’s like a bird in a cage with clipped wings. She has never been outside the garden walls and is homeschooled by Mrs. Glendoveer, an ailing woman who has lost her family. Clara’s mother is a nurse and cares for Mrs. Glendoveer along with the cook, Ruby. For the most part Clara has been content to stay home with her heart condition but lately she’s feeling restless. When Mrs. Glendoveer dies the three are allowed to take care of the mansion along with her four exotic birds in the aviary. At first they terrify Clara until one mysteriously says the name, “Elliot,” to her unraveling a mystery that leads Clara into danger, friendship, and freedom.
I found it difficult to figure out the time period of this story. It’s set during 1903 when the film, “The Great Train Robbery,” was released, but I didn’t figure that out until page 174. The beginning reminded me of “The Secret Garden” with an ailing child who has no contact with other children and a garden out back so I was thinking it was from the Victorian era, but it isn’t. Daphne is a spunky confident girl who makes friends with Clara. Readers will like how the two develop secretive signals so they can see each other without any adults knowing. It’s like a secret club.

The author has the girls use terms that are old-fashioned but it isn’t consistent. Clara sounds like an adult many times. She’s giving Mrs. Glendoveer her medicine: “Let’s get this down your sore throat where it can do some good, shall we?” or when she asks her mother if she thanked Ruby for the flowers. Clara even lectures her mother at one point and sounds like the adult while her mother sounds like the child. Clara’s developmentally too old for an eleven-year-old but I don’t think it takes away too much from the story. Clara is a good-hearted, obedient child even if her voice is not authentic. The mother’s character didn’t ring true for me either. She seemed too smart to be that afraid of exposing her daughter to the world. I think there needed to be something more life-threatening than thinking the father was mad and Clara might have inherited that madness.

The plot reveals too much and is forced in some spots. It didn’t ring true that Woodruff Booth would send Daphne a long letter explaining all that information about the Glendoveer family and his relationship with them, and it didn’t seem necessary when Clara finds the same information in Mrs. Glendoveer’s diaries. I think there would have been more tension if the author didn’t reveal so much. Daphne and Mr. Booth could have just agreed to meet. Also the clues are told in some parts of the story through letters rather than slowly revealing themselves through action which I think slows the pacing down alittle.

There is magic and children who have drowned but live in the spirit of an animal. This might be confusing for younger readers. While there are flaws in the story it is cute and entertaining.

Reading Level 4.5
:-):-):-) 3 out of 5 Smileys

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