Recommended for ages 9-13
Solo Hahn (his mom is a huge Star Wars fan) is a tween having a heck of a time. Not so long ago, in a galaxy not terribly far away – although it may seem that way – he had a great life: home in Redondo Beach, California; surfing with his buddies and loving his life; his mom loved her job as a professor, and his dad drew comics for a living. But things have changed; his dad has moved them to a trailer on a patch of land in Oregon, his mom has all gone vegetarian, crunchy granola on him, and his father is a shadow of the man he once was. The only thing Solo still had to hold onto was the kitten he found on the property as they were moving in; and then, an owl swooped in and took that away from him, too. Solo wanted revenge, but now he’s been labeled an “at-risk youth” and is doing community service at a raptor rescue center, where he’s taking care of the very types of birds that took his kitten from him.
Avenging the Owl is a great realistic fiction novel that tackles depression and suicide, and the toll it takes on a child when it happens to a parent. Even greater is the frustration of being a kid and having no control over anything in your life. Solo’s parents upend his life without any consideration as to its effect on him, and then voice frustration with him. It’s a valid, real portrait of adolescence, where kids’ independence are ultimately subject to their guardians’ plans.
There are good supporting characters in Avenging the Owl, including Solo’s group at the raptor rescue and Eric, Solo’s neighbor and friend. The story is a voyage of self-discovery for Solo, who emerges a different person than he was going into the story. He develops a relationship with Eric, a teen with Down Syndrome, initially at his mother’s behest but ultimately, develops genuine admiration and feeling for him. He learns to accept that Nature is not always fair. He learns to love his parents again, and just as important, they learn to see Solo for who he is. The thread running quietly through the novel about conservation and preservation is a great discussion theme for reading and discussion groups.
I enjoyed this book, and will add it to my realistic fiction collection. My middle graders enjoy animal fiction and often need to read realistic fiction for school, so this brings their two worlds together in a powerful way. Check out a great interview with author Melissa Hart on the From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog for some more insights.