TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
This sweet little novel tells the story of a friendship between two somewhat broken boys. Or, perhaps I should amend that, since we only get the very start of that friendship and the promise / hope that it will continue to survive after one summer at a Wisconsin lake.
"Bird Lake Moon," Kevin Henkes' latest book for young adults, is told in alternating chapters by Mitch Sinclair and Spencer Stone. Mitch's folks have just split up, and he's living with his shattered mom at his grandparents' small lakeside cottage. Mitch spends the beginning of the summer hiding under the stairs of a seemingly abandoned neighboring cottage in a spot where he's made a personal refuge for himself. His parents' breakup has pretty much destroyed Mitch's world, and that dank, cramped area below the stairs at least feels safe and protected. When Spencer's family shows up and inhabits the cottage, Mitch initially tries to scare them off with silly pranks (stolen swimming goggles, the image of a soccer ball painted in white sugar). Unfortunately, Spencer is the only one affected by the pranks, which he thinks may be signals from the ghost of his long dead older brother Matty. It turns out that Matty drowned at this very lake years back, and this is the first summer that Spencer's broken-hearted mom has been able to return.
After all the confusion and distrust at the beginning here — and after Mitch does something really stupid to the Stones' dog Jasper — he and Spencer quickly become good buds. They go swimming with Spencer's little sister Lolly, toss a football, and play card games. Mitch loves it over at the Stones' place, where there's usually so much laughter and warmth; when his grandparents and mom aren't being strangely silent, all they seem to do is fight. The only thing standing between Mitch and Spencer now is Mitch's reluctance to fess up to all his misdeeds that summer. When Mitch finally discovers his courage, it might just be too late.
"Bird Lake Moon" is one of those quiet, touching, almost poetic novels that are probably enjoyed more by librarians than kids in the target audience. I think that's still okay. There should be enough here to grab the attention of middle school boys, as the prank scenes and the football / swimming scenes may reflect some events in their own lives. If some of the subtleties of the novel — the hidden hurts that threaten to swallow whole lives, the small victories achieved along the way, the ambiguous yet optimistic ending — are lost on them, so be it. As for the more sensitive middle schoolers out there, they'll be rewarded with a rich, hopeful story.