Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

"... not only was our son enamored with birds, but his first word was “bird” at just 7 months..."

When I was asked to review Rare Bird, the debut memoir by Anna Whiston-Donaldson, I hesitated. At the center of the story is Anna's account of the loss of Jack, her 7th grade son on his first day back to school, when he was swept away in the rising creek of a neighbor's yard. Its obvious content, how a family finds itself working through life after an unimaginable loss, is a story that in itself is heart stopping.

But my dilemma, my challenge, is how to put to words what Anna's powerful work here is.

This is not a sad book.

This is not a book about Anna's son, Jack, and his death.

This is a book about Jack's life and the beauty that can achingly arise out of a parent's biggest fear: the loss of a child. Rare Bird is a riveting read, as I knew it would be, but it is unlike anything I expected.

I need to be clear, this not a sad book. This is not a book full of the drama of grief.

What Rare Bird is, is an amazing story of hope where you think none could exist. It's a story that has to be told, because of its gift of brutal beauty, and because it will save so many who feel lost in life. I didn't put Rare Bird down until I finished it. As I read through the pages, I thought to myself how though this book was given life through Jack's death, it is not full of Jack's death. Rare Bird is about miracles, about surviving something no one can imagine they have the strength for.

Part of me was tempted to do just a one sentence review, "This is a heck of a book." It would have been enough.

Rare Bird documents the days before, and the days after, of life without Jack. With a bounding pulse rhythm to her words, Anna allows us to carry the heavy load up and down through the time that follows. And it feels like a gift to be there for her.

What Anna has done is to allow us to step into her life, and we are changed. We are magically there, in those suspended moments of time following the loss of Jack. We walk with Anna, with Jack's sister, Margaret, and Tim, Jack's reeling and bewildered father. Every reader is alongside, boldly for them. Marching fiercely, lending our hearts and leaning in with our arms, we carry them. I can't think of any higher honor than to have lived through these times with Jack's family.

Anna's book is an exercise in humanity and in the power of presence by witnessing the piecing together of lives into a work of extraordinary, shimmering moments of the courage in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

Rare Bird is a gem of a work. I am proud to be a part of talking about it.

I believe in this work of our lives, of the daily act of loving one another. What Anna writes about in Rare Bird is not to be missed. Her book is something you want to hold in your hands, to savor, and to return to, again and again. 

I am giving away a copy of Rare Bird here. Please leave a comment to enter.

Thank you, Anna, for what you dared to summon, to emerge, glistening from the fire. With Rare Bird, you have given us a powerfully honest and breathtaking view of the unbreakable and eternal bond between all of us. And of you, and Jack, forever.

Anna's book Rare Bird is available on Amazon.

You can learn more about Anna at her blog, An Inch of Gray.

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  1. Thank you, Sweet Friend. You have been with me the whole way.

    1. Anna, you and Jack, and Margaret and Tim, have not left this family's heart since a night none of us will forget. We are here for you, forever.

  2. What a wonderful review of such a special book. I too was nervous when I read Rare Bird because I knew what it was about, but you are so right, it's not a sad book! And it's not about Jack's death, it's about his life. And it's about how a family walks the painful road of grief. As I reading your post I kept saying to myself, yes, yes, yes! Great post!

  3. This is an increasing fear of mine, especially as it's becoming clearer that we may only have one child. I avoid reading books like this, or even chapters in books that reference anything like this, hoping I'll find a safer spot eventually to place my anxieties. You're making me think about changing my mind, Alexandra - Rare Bird sounds like it's worth it...

  4. Emma: this book really is a can't miss. Through the paralyzing fear of losing a child, Anna shows how she survives, and keeps surviving. It was a beautiful and inspiring read...

  5. Your review made me cry almost as much as the book itself. What a truly beautiful tribute. And may I say, I am honored to know Anna and I have you, Alexandra to thank, when you gathered your tribe around Anna in 2011. xo

  6. This book does sound incredible! I am so glad you have emphasized that it is not a sad book. I have sat with a friend who lost her 17 year old daughter and the strength is amazing and the beauty of the stories she tells never cease to amaze me. Would love to read this and pass it around as well!

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  8. This book sounds so beautiful, a tribute of hope in memory of her sweet boy.

  9. You described it so well and beautifully. It IS a story of hope. And I'm so thankful that Anna is sharing her story, to help so many.

  10. To the lucky winner of this book, you will soon be holding a treasure in your hands. I will use random.org and then will email you for your address. THANK YOU!

  11. It sounds completely amazing, I'd love to win a copy. I hope I'm not too late. Thanks.

  12. I was afraid to read this book, thinking my emotions wouldn't be able to withstand the grief. But your review reveals an entirely different perspective and I would love to read it whether it's from winning a copy or purchasing it myself. Thank you!

  13. Leonora: you are the winner of Anna's book!!! Congratulations! You are going to love it. I can't find an email to go with your google account. Please email me and I"ll send this copy out to you. And congratulations!!



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