Set in Caledonia, Iowa, the story revolves around twelve year old Jewel Campbell, living with her parents, her grandfather, and their grief. On the day of her birth, her five year old brother (Bird) jumped off a cliff, believing her could fly. Her grandfather has never spoken since that day and Jewel has lived with the feeling that she is an inadequate ‘after the matter’ for the son her parents loved first. Being the only Jamaican-Hispanic family in the very ‘White Bread’ bread basket of the USA- Iowa, there is already enough to mark the family out as different without the pall of separateness and disturbance to the ‘natural order’ that the loss of a child brings.
A wonderful coming of age story in which time is metered through the lived experience of grief, Jewels new friendship with a stranger to town sets in motion a startling and unpredictable chain of events. This stranger-John, shares his name with Bird,, and may even be a mirror of what Bird may have looked like at the same age. The family believe it may be a sign- whether one of evil or maleficence, is yet to be discovered. Chan interweaves geology and astronomy, cultural folk histories and the supernatural in a manner that is reflective of the unbounded mind of a child and of her finding solace in the natural world around her in order to make sense of what is perceived to be the most unnatural of events- the death of a child.