In Hovering Flight by Joyce Hinnefeld

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover, 288 pages, 2008

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I’ve heard good things about it.

Synopsis: When Scarlet’s mother dies, she looks back over her life – which includes birdwatching, meeting the love of her life, environmental activism, art, and two life-long friends – comparing and contrasting the life of her mother to her own life, which has sprung from the unorthodox wildness of her parents’ views of the world.

Why you should read this book: Mothers and daughters: have there even been more complicated relationships? Hinnefeld bravely trudges into this minefield, allowing Scarlet glimpses of her mother’s life while granting the reader full the full scope of her story, reminding us of how much of our parents’ lives we never truly have access to as their children, no matter how close we think we are. Accented by brief but beautiful glimpses of the birds that bind the family together, In Hovering Flight will draw you in with its subtle but gorgeous look at relationships, surprising you as revelations from the past make the present look like an entirely different world.

Why you should avoid this book: I was a little skittish over the first few pages, worried that it was going to be dry because of the ‘field notes,’ but the story quickly picks up and becomes more multi-dimensional.

Opening paragraph:

According to John James Audubon, there was once a species of bird in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Cuvier’s kinglet, Regulus cuvieri, or, as Audubon liked to call it, Cuvier’s wren. And according to Addie and Tom Kavanagh, the mysterious bird may have magically appeared again nearly two hundred years later on a ridge near their home, seventy-five miles north of Audubon’s original sighting.

Fabulous quotes:

Eventually, the chickadees would finish their peanut butter and move on, and Addie would go back to drawing at her own window. Scarlet would entertain herself quietly for as long as she could. Then, when she could wait no longer, she would tap Addie on the shoulder and ask for lunch. They would spread their blanket – sometimes below, at the edge of the creek, or, on rainy days, on the floor of the blind itself – and start on their sandwiches. And Addie would tell her stories.

Eventually she decided that using Chantz’s services was cheating somehow, and she began gutting and stuffing the dead birds that people began depositing at her back steps – pigeons, blue jays, hawks, countless finches and robins, and once, yes, a great horned owl – on her own.
And eventually, when Scarlet could no longer stand it – the piles of dead birds, the constant phone calls and urgent meetings with the loosely affiliated group of conservationists and activists with whom Addie was now associating, the increasing outlandish ‘interventions,’ as they called them, that certain members of the group had began to stage – she asked if she might stay, for the entire summer when she was seventeen, with Cora and her family in Cider Cove.

Also recommended: The Gathering by Anne Enright; Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin’s Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt; Stiff by Mary Roach.

Also by this author: Tell Me Everything.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Hinnefeld’s love of bird songs was fostered by her father, a high school science teacher – a love that grew as she began the research for this novel.

Would I read more by this author? Tell Me Everything appears to be out of print, but I’d read it if I could find a copy…and I’ll definitely check out future novels.

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008

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