I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
I am a big fan of Anne Lamott so I was very excited to read her newest novel, IMPERFECT BIRDS. Rosie Ferguson is a beautiful accomplished 17-year-old getting ready to start on her senior year. She seems like the perfect child with her straight-A grades, job working with kids and good looks. But she isn't. Rosie has fallen into the world of drugs and dangerous behavior. Rosie's mother Elizabeth, a recovering alcoholic, can barely get through her days without crippling anxiety over her family. Yet this anxiety does not help her to recognize that Rosie is truly in trouble. Neither Elizabeth nor Rosie's stepfather James seem to realize just how much Rosie has been lying and how much danger she is in.
I really wanted to like this book and in many ways I did like it. I think many parents right now are struggling with these same issues. Do we smother our children and allow them no freedom in which case they may rebel? Or do we allow them too much freedom and hope they will make the right choices? The story of the Ferguson family is a heartbreaking one. As a parent, I found it difficult to read because this is every parent's nightmare. However, the book is also filled with hope. The Fergusons are surrounded by a strong network of friends and advisors who help them navigate this troubled time.
While the subject matter is strong and powerful, I was disappointed in the characters. Lamott points out that we are all imperfect birds. Her characters are flawed just like the rest of us. But they fail to be likeable. Elizabeth is such a mess and seems so willingingly blind to everything that is going on that you wish to shake her until her eyeballs rattle. James is clearly a good man and father but often comes off as pompous and weak. Lamott gives us glimpses at the situation from Rosie's perspective that are meant to create empathy but it never works. She just comes off as an entitled brat. It is a real problem when a reader cannot emotionally connect with any characters in a book and this is what happened for me. Their story is authentic and painful but something is missing.
This book will be released in April 2010.
BOTTOM LINE: Although I was sorely disappointed in this book, I would recommend it for specific groups of readers. I think it will resonate with parents as well as those who have been touched by addiction. The story is solid even if the characters aren't.