Recommended for ages 11+
Issues with hunting, falconry, and animal rights activism all come together in Kym Brunner’s Flip the Bird. Fourteen year-old Mercer Buddie wants two things out of life right now: he wants a girlfriend, and he wants to be a falconer, like his father and brother. He’s training as an apprentice to his father, a master falconer, but feels like his dad favors his jock of an older brother and is too critical of him. He captures a red-tailed hawk that he names Flip – to show his dad that falconry doesn’t always have to be a Very Serious Business – and has a few short weeks to train him for the big falconry meet; he’s got his eye on the Best Apprentice Award. Then he meets Lucy, who’s gorgeous and has a great personality and seems to be just as interested in him; the only problem is that she and her family are part of a fanatical animal rights organization called HALT. Mercer tries to play both sides to stay in Lucy’s and his family’s good graces, but sooner or later, the two halves of his life are going to converge. His mother is a scientist at a university lab doing medical research, and his father has a raptor rehabilitation center in addition to being a falconer – which means, a hunter. There are a lot of difficult choices in Mercer’s immediate future.
Flip the Bird brings together a lot of hot button topics to create a moving story about family and going with the crowd. Told in the first person by Mercer, the narrative is humorous while discussing the frustrations of being the little brother; the struggle to be treated like a responsible young adult, and the difficulty in making decisions that may be unpopular with the people you want to impress the most. To impress Lucy, Mercer joins the HALT collective she forms at school, but this puts him at direct odds with his family, and they let him know it. There are consequences to his actions, and we see Mercer grow as he faces those consequences. There’s interesting information about falconry and raptor rescue here, which will appeal to fans of animal fiction and birds. While the author gives a shout-out to some of her research sources in her acknowledgements, and does emphasize the extreme commitment that falconry requires, I’d have liked to see links to information about raptor rescue at the end of the book. I did some quick searching and came up with a quick list for anyone interested: The Raptor Trust, Wild Bird Fund, and A Place Called Hope. PBS’ Falconer’s Memoir page offers a map of states permitting falconry and links to classroom activities for using “A Falconer’s Memoir” in the classroom. The World Wildlife Fund is an organization that works with wildlife conservation and endangered species, and most large zoological preserves pioneer conservation and rehabilitation practices for animals in the wild. Kym Brunner is also a seventh grade teacher, and her author website offers presentations that you can use in the classroom.
I enjoyed the book and the characters. I’ll be adding this to my shelf; if you’ve know realistic fiction, animal fiction, or middle schoolers looking for something new and different to read, add this one to your shelves and shopping lists.