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Nightbird by Alice Hoffman is a fantasy that takes place in Sidwell, a small town near Boston (in the Berkshires). Twig is a tall gangly girl that can never make friends. It’s not that she doesn’t want friends or that she wants to be stand-offish, but she does it to keep people away from her house. If they are friends with her, then they will want to come over, and she is hiding a secret with her mother, who also turns down all social invitations. Their secret is that Twig’s brother, who is just a little older than her, has wings because of a curse placed on her family 200 years ago. All the men in her family have had wings, but most have gone through an operation to have them removed at birth. Twig’s mother didn’t want her baby to be exposed to this painful procedure, so after trying to be normal in Brooklyn, the family moves back to Sidwell and hides James in the house.

When two new girls move into the house next door, all the trouble starts. The house once belonged to the Sidwell witch that put the spell on Twig’s family. The two girls who arrive are actually distant relatives of the witch, so Twig’s mother wants her to have nothing to do with them. But Julia and Agate are kind and accepting and fun. Twig sneaks off with them to play all summer and tells her mother she’s in the orchard.

Meanwhile, the town is gearing up to go on a monster hunt. There have been sightings of a giant flying creature with black feathers. And things have been disappearing around town. The townspeople are (casually at first) growing afraid of it. Someone has been painting what looks like little monsters in spray paint around town and leaving mysterious messages. As Twig and Julia work to solve these mysteries to protect James, they find out about how their families related in the first place.

This character-driven novel is a magical story about friendship and hope in spite of fate. It was suspenseful and thoughtful and the characters were well-rounded even if not all of them were dynamic. The changes in Twig’s character makes all the difference. The book is a little fairytale-ish and the ends are tied up too cleanly, but I think that’s part of the charm of this middle grade book. Readers will be left satisfied.

Readalike: A Snicker of Magic (review here) by Natalie Lloyd (fantasy, small town, town history, traditions, family roots, curses, belonging, folksy, absent fathers, mothers with relationship problems)