Ever since their mother died a few months ago, Rachel and her little sister Jane have been taken care of (reluctantly) by their aunt and uncle. Now they are being sent even further away to spend the summer on the family ranch with their grandparents, who are complete strangers to them. Rachel is more than apprehensive to be left in the middle of nowhere with no cell service or internet access – and no sign of the city life she is accustomed to.
There must be a reason her mother stayed away from her parents all these years. As Rachel and her sister start to learn more about the family they never knew they had, Rachel only has more questions: What happened to Uncle Jimmy? Who was Stephanie, whose name is written on a white origami butterfly her mother made as a teenager? What is grandpa Wayne hiding that he doesn’t want their grandmother to find? Rachel quickly discovers her family has a secret that’s been buried for years, and that all the answers to her questions just might be found at the very ranch where she’s staying.
Rachel Bird is a beautifully written multi-layered story. The characters are complex, with flaws and fully developed pasts that are organically revealed to Rachel and the reader over the course of the novel. Rachel’s instinct to protect her little sister is a depiction of siblings who have survived much adversity together in a short period, and the portrayal of uncertain teen romance rings true and complements the rest of the story. Although it may not be the most unique storyline, Citra manages to make this novel her own with several twists that keep the “sent away for the summer and discover a mystery” trope fresh and exciting. Its short chapters propel the story forward and will keep even reluctant readers engaged right to the end.
This is a perfect summer read set against the backdrop of the remote and beautiful interior of British Columbia, complete with lakes, canoes, and loons to round out the Canadian setting. The author perfectly captures the voice of a young teenage girl thrust into a situation in which she feels completely unprepared and alone, and who ultimately finds the home she has always wanted in the place she least expected.