Review Detail

Kids Fiction 1004
Birmingham Rollers
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Ren is not having a great summer. His family has moved from town out to his grandparents' house, and since his parents are always at work (his mother is a vet, and his father has to be on site to oversee building projects), he's not able to get into town to hang out with his friend Aiden or visit the comic book store. Not only that, but he's told his father that he will try out for cross country in middle school, so he has to run at 6:00 a.m. every morning. His father was a great athlete in school and coached cross country for years, so Ren is hoping to connect with his father through the sport, even though he hates running. While he is on a run one day, he sees birds falling from the sky. They turn out to be a special kind of pigeon, Birmingham Rollers, and are being trained by Sutton, who has just moved into a neighboring house. Sutton's summer isn't great, either-- she's used to being in DC and not in the country, and her father has been critically injured in an accident. He was supposed to be helping her train the birds for a competition. Ren and Sutton start to hang out and work with the birds, and they both seem to enjoy this. At the same time, Aiden and Ren are growing apart. Ren tries too hard to introduce Sutton to the kids who will attend their school, which strains not only his relationship with her, but also with Aiden. As the summer turns to fall, how will Ren gain some balance in his life?
Good Points
The two biggest issues that middle grade readers have to deal with are friends and personal identity. This book handled both of those brilliantly. Ren and Aiden are growing apart because Aiden is hanging out with physically more mature boys who are interested in sports; Ren likes comic books. Sutton is on the weird side, which makes Ren want to avoid her, but they have fun together, so he's confused. It's a little unusual for middle school boys to be friends with girls, and I thought that the evolution of the friendship was written very convincingly.

Ren wants to be an athlete like his father, and he does try, but it's just not who he is. He doesn't think about this a lot; he tries stuff, and it doesn't work. I liked that Sutton had an unusual interest, and also that her father's situation was managed in as positive a manner as it could be. Moving, deaths of grandparents, parents who are busy-- this had a lot of very important issues and was done in an upbeat way.

I wish that Ren had liked running! It's true, though-- it's not for every child, and bonus points for actually running before the season and seeing if it worked for him. Readers who enjoyed Kate Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z will find this to be a similar read. Roll will be a hit with readers who like realistic fiction with a little bit of humor like Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson series, Weeks' Regular Guy or Anderson's Ms. Bixby's Last Day and Posted.
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