By: Charles W. Shirriff
Publication Date: December 1999
Review by Nancy J. Bailey
Review Date: August 2009
In this coming of age story, a country boy moves to the city and sees a side of life he has never before witnessed. I love the concept of an admitted homophobe being thrust into an environment that includes a gay lifestyle. Jay, the country boy, seems to be caught in a situation he doesn’t really like, but he doesn’t have the strength to leave it. He has left home on a bus, is out of money and taken in by Phil, a somewhat eccentric and rather hermit-like vegetarian.
The story inexplicably entwines the concept of Native American spirituality and totem animals, another favorite topic of mine. Jay never admits to Native American blood, but he seems open to shaman-like experiences, including visions and guidance from an eagle spirit.
There were things I liked about this book: the utter confusion of the main character; his unstable background with a mother who could not stay with one partner, his wandering experiences in the city and chance encounters with people he would never have befriended under normal circumstances. Jay is very judgmental and edges toward narcissism, but he finally learns to care for someone when he finds love with a girl who has a drug problem. True to life, the story doesn’t necessarily reach a satisfying resolution for all characters, which is something I appreciated. The inclusion of Phil’s recipes is a nice touch.
I thought the point of view may have been stronger in the first person, as Jay tends to explain himself in a way that is almost reminiscent of “The Catcher in the Rye’s” Holden Caulfield. Even as desperate as he is, I never quite bought or understood why Jay consented to moving in with Phil. Phil confused me a little bit at first. I thought he was up to something, and was also under the impression that he was homosexual. We don’t find out until well into the story what has actually prompted Phil to take an interest in this kid who is so ungrateful and manipulative. I think the relationship between Phil and the boy he had initially befriended needed to be examined further, and probably earlier in the story.
As much as I liked some of the concepts of the story, I felt the plot was meandering and not really going anywhere. Jay’s deepest desire is never established; there is seemingly nothing driving him. Jay is just thrust into a situation with strangers, completely depending on them for his welfare and livelihood. Although the author tries to explain Jay’s motives and thoughts, I felt I never fully understood him, nor did I find him very likeable. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a main character who is not necessarily likeable, but the reader should be able to empathize with the character on some level.
Quill Says: The story has potential but is missing some key elements to make it a compelling read.
For more information on Spirits of a Feather, please visit the author's website at Shirriff.org