Riverhead Hardcover, 2010. ISBN 978-1-594-48751-4.
Reviewed by Linda Hoye
Posted on 05/03/2010
Imperfect Birds is, on the surface, a frank and brutally honest story of a rebellious teenager and her mother. To outsiders, Rosie Ferguson appears to be a typical high school senior spending time with friends, volunteering at her local church, giving tennis lessons, yet still child enough to refer to her mother as "Mommy." The other side of Rosie is a master-manipulator experimenting with all manner of drugs and sex and full of disdain for many of the adults in her life.
Rosie's mom, Elizabeth, is a recovering alcoholic who chooses not to acknowledge the subtle signs of her daughter's self-destructive behavior. Mother and daughter have an almost-obsessive, but unspoken, fear of the other dying, yet at times claim to hate one other. Rosie's step-father James, despite best intentions, spends too much time and energy on his work to recognize that there are problems at home.
When Rosie's behavior begins to spiral out of control and James and Elizabeth can no longer ignore the obvious, they begin performing random drug tests on her in an attempt to force her sobriety. Their strategy backfires when Rosie seeks alternative ways to find a high that won't show up on the tests. All comes crashing down when Rosie drinks cold syrup prior to a church picnic and Elizabeth acts on the sage counsel of a friend who advises "Just don't do nothing today. Today, do something big." Elizabeth takes Rosie to the ER where the full spectrum of her drug use is revealed and Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the truth and take steps to save their family.
Underneath this compelling story are currents that reflect the classic struggle between mothers and daughters. As mothers, we cheer our daughters on when they reach adolescence and we begin to see glimpses of the women they will become, yet at the same time we mourn the fact that they are taking the first steps on a path that will one day take them away from us. As daughters we struggle to be free from the confines of our mother's arms, yet we wrestle with sorrow at the thought of leaving the security and love that they represent.
Read Imperfect Birds the first time to enjoy the story; read it the second time to appreciate the message it contains.
Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually), Plan B, Traveling Mercies, and Operating Instructions, as well as seven novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. She is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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