The Thing With Feathers, by McCall Hoyle – Review by Millicent Flake
“I just love the metaphor in this book!”
I overheard this exclamation from an 8th grade girl sitting on the couch in my middle school library one morning. The student was reading an advance copy of The Thing with Feathers, the debut novel by McCall Hoyle, a high school English teacher from Gainesville, Georgia. Moments like these when students get excited about a book are what make my job as a media specialist rewarding!
Feathers is filled with metaphors and other figurative language that capture the thoughts and emotions of Emilie, the teenage heroine of this YA novel. As the story begins, she is angry with her mother for forcing her to attend public school for the first time in her life. She has been comfortably home schooled at her house at the Outer Banks of North Carolina with her books and her dog Hitch. She is still in grief from the death of her father from cancer and has no desire to step into the high school world, where everyone seems to have a perfect life. In fact, she sees it as “this girl’s worst punishment.” But the root of her opposition to school is that she is terrified of having her deepest secret exposed – Emilie has epilepsy and could go into a seizure at any time.
Her mother and counselor feel the time has come for her to broaden her social and emotional connections and since she has not had a seizure in three months, it is time for public school. Emilie’s bargain with them is that after three months she can come back to her cocoon at home. She is determined to get through the three month trial with no attachments and with no one knowing her secret.
But what she does not anticipate is Chatham, the cute boy who shows her around school the first day and later asks for her help with his English homework, or Ayla, who asks her to eat lunch at the table with her literary magazine friends. Before long she finds herself trusting Ayla and falling for Chatham as they work on a project together about Emily Dickinson. How long can she continue to keep her secret as she spends more and more time with them?
Hoyle has woven together a teenage love story that captures the atmosphere of high school and the challenges her characters face. Not only is Emilie struggling with how to let others know about her epilepsy, she is forced to deal with her grief over her father’s death as her mother begins to date. As she opens herself up to new friends, she sees that every family has its share of problems and that often secrets lurk behind closed doors. With empathy, insight and humor, Hoyle draws us into Emilie’s world, and we are rooting for her to make the right choices.
I can’t wait to put this book into the hands of my middle schoolers, who will eat up the budding romance between Emilie and Chatham, while at the same time learning about the seldom discussed disease of epilepsy. In addition, the references to Emily Dickinson will help them see that the poets they learn about in school can actually be relevant to their lives!
And the metaphor my student loved? As Emilie’s mother leaves her in the guidance counselor’s office on her first day of school, Emilie sums up her feelings with “I’m like half of Hansel and Gretel, except I forgot to drop the bread crumbs and there’s no way out.” You and your students will enjoy going down this path with Emilie in The Thing with Feathers.
Millicent Flake is a middle school media specialist who loves connecting students with books that get them excited. She is also a writer and working on her first novel. Her blog, Under the Magnolia Tree, can be found at maflake.wordpress.com.
Connect with her on Twitter, @MillicentFlake