Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a “flighty” contemporary YA romance from Kym Brunner. FLIP THE BIRD pits a young falconer against a fledgling animal rights activist–and the feathers are sure to fly! (Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the puns already!) I’ve already reviewed two of Kym’s previous titles: WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde paranormal romance and ONE SMART COOKIE, a fun ethnic YA Romance. So, I couldn’t wait to read FLIP THE BIRD.
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About the book:
Mercer Buddie wants two things in this world: a girlfriend and the chance to prove to his master falconer father that he’s not a flake. With hunting season fast approaching, fourteen-year-old Mercer has only a short time to work with Flip, a red-tailed hawk he irreverently named to show his dad that falconers don’t have to be so serious all the time.
When Mercer meets Lucy, he falls hard for her gorgeous looks and bubbly personality. He thinks his love life is about to take flight, until he discovers that Lucy and her family belong to a fanatical animal-rights organization called HALT—a group that believes imposing any sort of restrictions on animals is a form of cruelty. Mercer soon realizes that if he wants to keep seeing Lucy, he’ll need to keep his love of falconry and his family’s raptor rehabilitation center a secret from her, and Lucy’s involvement with HALT from his family.
With humor and honesty, Mercer’s story shows how growing up means making difficult choices…and sometimes, being rewarded in unexpected ways.
I absolutely devoured this YA contemporary romance.
Mercer Buddie is a high school freshman who’s still trying to get his bearings in his world. Originally from northern Wisconsin, his family moved two years ago to the northwest Illinois area so his mother could take a director job at a fictional Rockford college. His mother is a scientist, though Mercer has little interaction with her because of her long hours. He’s very close with his father, a bird expert and raptor rehabilitator. Raptors, for those who don’t know, are birds of prey, and have talons and hooked beaks–when I used to teach at Cal State Bakersfield, I had the opportunity to tour their Raptor Sanctuary many times. The Buddie Bird hospital and sanctuary in this book was very reminiscent of that. Mercer’s father rehabs injured birds, releases those who are able to survive on their own, while caring permanently disabled ones. Mercer and his elder brother, Lincoln, have both assisted in the care of the birds, and are falconers as a hobby. This means they humanely trap wild hawks and train them to hunt for them. It’s a hobby I’m not very familiar with, but I learned a lot about it in this book!
At age 14, Mercer is finally legally able to get a hunting license of his own, and to train his own bird. As the story opens, Mercer is on the hunt for his first bird–and he messes up by leaving his bait behind. He meets Lucy at a local pet store to buy a new mouse; she thinks Mercer is buying the mouse as a pet. Mercer’s so tongue-tied and captivated, he can’t get her out of his mind. He successfully traps a juvenile red-tailed hawk that is promptly named “Flip.” Mercer’s anxious about his bird-training skills, and hopeful he can train Flip well enough to compete for the Best Apprentice pin at the season opener falconry hunt in four weeks.
Mercer next meets Lucy in the most unlikely place: a protest at his mother’s college. Turns out Lucy’s parents are big in an animal rights organization called HALT, which wants all animal testing and use to be outlawed. Some members of this group have been arrested for destruction of labs, and Mercer witnesses them assaulting his mother. Still, seeing Lucy at school, he wants to know more about her–and he thinks pretending to be interested in her organization is one way to do so. He’s particularly shy, and wishes he was a buff ladies man like Lincoln.
The more Mercer interacts with Lucy, the more trouble he finds himself in, however. He’s lying to everyone about who he is; hiding his falconry from Lucy, hiding his HALT activities from his parents, and pretending to be a vegetarian so he can eat lunch with Lucy each day. Some of her fellow HALT members at school are even more keen on the protests than Lucy, and Mercer’s friends keep urging him to be himself–and not always so subtly.
As to be expected, the big reveal comes at the worst possible time in Mercer and Lucy’s budding romance. It seems like that might be the end, but it’s not…well, not exactly. Because Mercer’s family and their raptor sanctuary are now in the crosshairs of HALT, and that’s not a safe place to be. Mercer’s father had warned him of the dangers of this group, and it’s not idle words.
I don’t want to give away any more of the plot. Mercer proves himself time and again to be a kid who can’t separate his feelings. He likes Lucy, and he loves falconry, and his family, but he thinks he can have it all. Unfortunately, he just can’t. When it comes to the crisis, he’s honest and forthright and admirable. That said, that’s not his biggest challenge–and he’s a total boss in the face of the serious problems caused by HALT members’ recklessness. Also, he has the opportunity to continue his romance with Lucy, under less-than-ideal conditions and makes the right choice there, too. Through all this adversity, Mercer becomes a stronger kid, one unwilling to be pushed around by anyone, not friends or family. He recognizes the futility of pretending to be someone he isn’t only to make others happy, and this is an organic theme of the book, not something tacked on.
I really enjoyed all the falconry bits, and the sheer elation Mercer experienced in training Flip. His big showing at the opening hunt was so fun! Lots of good and “bad” humor. Mercer is a stand up guy, in his mind initially, but later in his actions. His brother Lincoln is a jerk and a bully, among other flaws, and Mercer does the right things, eventually, that actually end up getting his whole family to be more cognizant of their problems. I like his tattling sister, too.
Regarding HALT. Full disclosure: my education is in science, and I spent many years as an animal researcher. I’ve had many friends and family express conflicting opinions regarding the use of animals in scientific studies. I cannot begin to outline the restrictions and care that goes into certified animal research–there are so many. And while I respect the gains that animal rights activists have made in terms of ethical treatment of animals, I absolutely can’t condone violence and destruction of property in the name of “saving” animals. What is particularly troubling are people who do not understand the danger they create when they release animals who are unable to live free. The scenes in this book are fictional, but they are not created out of imagination. Like Mercer, readers will have to decide what the right choices are regarding animal welfare. As a scientist, I know that animal research is conducted as carefully as possible, with as few animals as is necessary to demonstrate accurate results to benefit humans and animals alike.
Compelling characters, a dynamic odd-couple YA romance, and interesting plot twists kept me reading this one long after I should have gone to bed. It’s a solid story about being true to who you are, finding the right relationships, and meeting your responsibilities head on.
Oh, and flipping the bird now and then.
Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win one of three copies of FLIP THE BIRD (US only…)
Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
Kym Brunner dreams entire novels in her head, but needs about a year to write it all down. She wishes there was an app for this. She’s addicted to chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she’s not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. Her article, Cracking Down on Multiple POVs: Surrender and Nobody Gets Hurt, appeared in Writer’s Digest online (July, 2014). She is the author of two traditionally published novels: a YA suspense-thriller, Wanted: Dead or In Love (Merit Press, 2014) and a YA humorous romance, One Smart Cookie (Omnific Publishing, 2014). She lives in the Chicago area with her family and her two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua.