"... 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.
* * *