Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen is a contemporary young adult novel exploring how we become broken and how we can piece ourselves back together again.
Wren is a troubled fourteen-year-old who ends up at a wilderness survival camp in the Utah desert as her last chance to turn her life around. She’s gotten a little lost and found herself involved in drugs, underage drinking and distanced herself from her family.
Part of Wren’s story involves her turbulent relationship with her family. She has an older sister, Anabella, who is “perfect” in the ways Wren is not: looks, grades, and friends. When the family moves, she abandons her sister for a quickly made friend group and won’t even talk to her sister at school. Wren is forced to find her own way, one that leads her to a disastrous friendship with a girl named Meadow.
Van Draanen uses Wren’s brokenness and her broken relationships to expose what it means to become truly vulnerable and honest with yourself. Wren must stop running in denial and face her mistakes with an inner strength of character that frees her from her past.
“There’s a wisdom passed through the ages that says that if we walk far but are angry as we journey, we travel nowhere. If we hold grudges as we scale mountains, our view remains the same.” (237)
Wren’s journey into her very core takes readers into a soul parched for friendship and understanding. Over time she realizes that these needs won’t come from an angry, embittered heart but only one that has achieved an understanding of itself. Learning to know who she is, not just who she was, enables her to create a future for who she could be.
“And then, unexpectedly, tickling me from inside, I recognize a long-lost feeling. The one I looked for whenever I got stoned or drunk. The one I tried to corner by outsmarting Anabella, my parents, Meadow. The one that kept drifting past me, promising me I would find it right…over…there.
…In the desert, making food in the dirt, and somehow, against everything I’ve said and thought and expected, it’s found me?
I laugh out loud. It’s so ironic. But there it is. Happiness. Happiness from inside.
… I can do stuff. And knowing that — owning that– makes me feel… unstoppable. … This is who I want to be.” (272)
Part of the beauty of Wild Bird is the realistic and human way each character is written, exposing individual flaws and their attempts to improve and grow. By the end of the book, we recognize how much her family has begun to prioritize each other over the other things in their lives.
When seeing a handwritten letter from her mom, Wren understand just how much her family has begun to change too.
“…all the letters in between flow together, connecting letters into words, words into thoughts, thoughts into love. I can just feel it, coming off the page.
I don’t know why seeing a letter from my mom in her own handwriting means so much to me, but it does. …Maybe it’s because I feel like she touched the page, didn’t just press print. Maybe because it means she listened.” (304)
Finally, one of the most powerful quotes of the book happens just before Wren’s most vulnerable moment:
“Today I’ve been considering how life’s journey is not about the distance we move our feet, but how we are moved in our heart.” (237)
Wren has the courage to face her past and take that always uncertain step towards the future. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fantastic story of a girl getting a little lost in order to be truly found.
May we all be moved more in our hearts. May we all find our place to be wildly free.