Birdy Flynn is the debut YA novel from Helen Donohoe, set in the summer of 1982. Beautifully executed, it’s a novel with many layers and a strong heart.
The opening scene of the novel is a tough one – Birdy witnesses a group of boys, supposed friends, torture a cat. The focus isn’t on the gory details, but on Birdy’s reaction, the uncomfortable feeling and the dilemma she’s in. It sets the tone for the novel – feeling awkward, working out the right thing to do even when that goes against social pressures.
Birdy’s guilt over this episode filters throughout the novel, it’s a cause of angst and guilt – the cat belongs to a family member- but Birdy’s real underlying conflict is trying to be who she really is.
Her Dad doesn’t like the way she dresses- her clothes are too masculine. Why can’t he understand that’s just the way she wants to be?
I can’t stress how beautifully nuanced Donohoe’s writing is. She conveys Birdy’s confusion over her identity with intelligence and sensitivity. There are a series of lump in throat scenes which capture Birdy wonderfully, and pull the reader along with her thoughts and feelings. The scenes portraying the day Birdy decides to give in and dress as others want her to, is both sensitively and powerfully portrayed.
Danger comes in the form of a teacher at school, the others who don’t understand her… and then there’s the mysterious Gypsy Girl…
In parallel Donohoe captures the confusing period of the 80s, Birdy is from an Irish family living in England. Tensions are running high, and this impacts family life as well as giving Donohoe the opportunity to portray wonderful characters such as Edna, (‘If the cap doesn’t fit , you don’t have to wear it, love.’) Eileen and Birdy’s parents.
Birdy Flynn the novel, is full of depth and meaning waiting to be discovered, much like the character. It’s a powerful read, and an all encompassing one.