Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reader's Diary #954- Jamie Bastedo: Nighthawk!


While reading Jamie Bastedo's Nighthawk! I was also in the process of reading of reading Richard Adams's Watership Down to my daughter and the similarities between the two were readily apparent. Both deal with animal societies, with anthropomorphised animals on heroic adventures. However, whereas Watership Down is epic in nature, Nighthawk! is more of a coming-of-age story.

Nighthawk! is the story of a bird named Wisp, who in human terms, comes across as a a rather typical teenager. He has insecurities (he cannot read stars to navigate as most nighthawks can), but nonetheless challenges authority and wants to set out on his own. And set out he does; Wisp aims to fly all the way from the Amazon to the Arctic. Though he's not on his own for long.

Wisp is a highly engaging character, flawed but likeable, walking... or flying, I guess... those fine lines between between persistence and stubbornness, independence and mistrust. But he's certainly not the only interesting character. Another, a raven named Gonzo, provides some comic relief, though I will admit cringing a little when he first appeared, wondering if he wasn't portrayed as a racist stereotype. I had once heard similar charges over the crows in Disney's Dumbo cartoon and perhaps that planted the question about Gonzo in my head. Wisp and his sister Willo first meet Gonzo in Panama. He has a very thick accent ("What do you know about deesgusting food, cheeken-face?") and he's a bit on the crazy side. Whether or not someone from Panama would take offense to Gonzo, he did grow on me and turned out to have a lot of good qualities in the end.

A beef about the title: the exclamation point is annoying. It tries too hard, especially when the word nighthawk is dramatic enough on its own, as are each of the stem words that make up the compound word. Ordinarily I'd say this is but a small beef with editing (as was my earlier Tweeted beef about using Columbia to refer to the country instead of the correct Colombia), but I found it hard to ignore that shouting mark right there on the front of the book, needing attention every time I picked it up.

Luckily, Nighthawk! is a rollicking adventure and despite small issues, I quite enjoyed it.

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