Let me warn you: the description of this book is going to sound bizarre. This book IS bizarre. Very. Seriously. Really weird. BUT I also really, really liked it. So hang in there: Shiels’s ultra-organized world is thrown out of control when, no joke, a pterodactyl flies out of the sky with a transfer slip. Apparently, his enrollment is a school board initiative, even though no one quite seems to know how it’s possible that a freakin’ pterodactyl even exists, let alone why he wants to enroll in high school. What’s even more weird is that he’s almost instantly popular, boys and girls alike are all drawn to him without really being able to say why. I mean, Shiels could say why…but she definitely doesn’t want to.
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, that does sound pretty weird, but not that weird.” Trust me. It gets odder as the book goes on. And before you ask, no, the pterodactyl, Pyke, is not a pterodactyl in the creative sense, like a dark-skinned boy with wings or something. He is literally covered in fur, has a beak and three-fingered hands, and yes, wings. He can barely communicate with Shiels and the other humans, speaking mostly in squawks that are more or less intelligible. Pyke does have a six-pack, however. So there’s that.
There is nothing in this book about crushes or puppy love – there is only the deep love Shiels feels for her longtime boyfriend, Sheldon, and the strong sexual attraction she feels towards Pyke. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but Cumyn manages his subject matter so that it becomes powerful, poignant. Shiels hasn’t been taught by her society how to be a sexual being, and when her teachers and classmates glimpse that side of her, she loses both their respect and their friendship, despite the fact that the entire school is under Pyke’s weird spell in one way or another.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – there aren’t any steamy interspecies love scenes in this book. Instead Cumyn’s focus is almost entirely on Shiels’s internal life as she navigates her drastically changed life and relationships. Sheldon is sweet and smart, but he’s not the point. Pyke is messing with Shiels’s mind in some ancient and primal way, but he’s not the point either – Shiels is. She’s figuring out what she wants. She’s figuring out who she is. And more often than I had to set this book aside because it was just too weird (which did happen a couple of times, especially at the beginning), I set it aside many more times so that I could write down a line of Cumyn’s oddly lyrical prose – e.g. “Why does the blood boil in such uncomfortable directions?” I mean, come on. That’s just poetry.
Obviously this book isn’t for everyone. And I will admit that in the beginning, it’s a little bit confusing – everything happens pretty quickly, and everything that’s happening is pretty weird, which adds to the disorientation. But in the end, that initial confusion just added to the artistry of it, for me.
Strange, empowering, and freakishly beautiful.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.