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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Aviary, written by Kathleen O'Dell. Knopf, Random House. 2011. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"She yelped and hopped up on a small wooden crate. Her weight, however, proved too much for the box, and one leg crashed through. The rat skittered off into the shadows, but Clara was stuck. The heart she had just lectured now pumped furiously as she pulled at her knee to free her foot. Her hem ripped before her stocking foot came out - bootless!"

I liked this book! It is historical fiction, while also housing mystery. It has an element of fantasy and magic. It has an old-fashioned feel about it and it has the most interesting characters. The Glendoveer Mansion is home to young Clara; her mother, Harriet; the cook, Ruby, and the owner, Mrs. Cenelia Glendoveer. Mrs. Glendoveer is an ailing older woman who requires much care and assistance:

"Clara almost couldn't bear to watch. The sharp bones of the old woman's spine seemed ready to break through the skin. And her lovely white hair was damp and stringy, showing her naked scalp. After Mrs. Glendoveer coughed into the hankie one last time, Harriet motioned for Clara to bring the bed jacket. She clothed Mrs. Glendoveer and laid her back gently, propping her upright with pillows."

The mansion itself has a presence and takes on a life of its own, with its many rooms, hidden secrets, eerie sounds and found treasures. It is a great setting for this story of a magician, his family and his partner in their magic show, Mr. Woodruff Booth. While their parents are away in Europe performing, the Glendoveer children are kidnapped and later found drowned...all five of the older ones, and the baby Elliott was never found. 

The birds in the backyard aviary are a mystery at the beginning of the story...raucous and upset over company, insistent and strident whenever Clara comes near. It takes time and patience to discover their secrets. The five of them are different species, with distinct personalities and in need of care. When Mrs. Glendoveer dies, Clara promises that she will provide that care. As she does, she makes some amazing discoveries. They lead her to search further and with the help of a new friend and neighbor, she is able to solve the mystery of the kidnapping and the still missing baby:

"Clara stood absorbing all the sound until it resonated in her bones. In her mind, the bits and pieces of everything she had gleaned about the Glendoveers' story held together. She had a picture now! The blue embroidered poem, barely perceptible at the bottom of Mrs. Glendoveer's mourning picture.
None shall fly till all come home..."

This is not an easy read and will be appreciated by those middle graders who love a good story, with multiple characters, many twists, some scares and a touch of magic and deceit. A cast of carefully drawn characters, a hint of mystery and old fashioned intrigue captured my interest and kept me reading late into the night. Blessed be retirement that allows sleep-ins when such things happen!

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