Book Review: Imperfect Birds

Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott

Riverhead Hardcover

288 pages

Nothing scares me more than the thought of my stepdaughter becoming a teenager.  She’s ten now and sometimes when she does something or says something she shouldn’t, I look at my husband and say Wow—she’s only ten!  How will it be when she is thirteen?  Fourteen?  As Judge Judy would say, you know a teenager is lying when you see their mouth move. And that is just the beginning!

Imperfect Birds, by Anne Lamott, is a horror story for anyone that has a teenager or a kid that will eventually turn into a teenager.  Rosie is in high school and she is a little hellion.  She does all kinds of drugs—in fact, she seems to be up for pretty much any drug that is offered.  Shrooms, acid, E, Special K . . . . you name it, Rosie has tried it.  She is also somewhat “loose”.  However, as most teenagers are apt to think, Rosie is convinced she doesn’t have a problem.  She gets good grades and works as a teacher at a vacation bible school, so she convinces everyone that she’s got it together.  No one wants to believe it more than her mother and stepfather.  Especially her mother.

Elizabeth and James had a happy marriage, but now it is crumbling.  James is starting to see through Rosie’s façade and is intent on disciplining Rosie more, whereas Elizabeth is grasping for Rosie’s love and affection and is willing to overlook Rosie’s behavior in an effort to be in Rosie’s good graces.  Rosie, as teenagers are wont to do, plays into her mother’s weaknesses and manipulates the situation to her own advantage.  Every time Rosie gets herself into trouble, she talks her way out of it.  Elizabeth would like to think that she is being a responsible parent by grounding Rosie and drug testing her, but it is mostly a sham.  While Elizabeth wants Rosie to be a healthy, responsible teenager she is not able to take the final steps to ensure that Rosie is saved from herself.  That is, until towards the end of the book (don’t read on if you don’t like spoilers). . .

Eventually, it becomes apparent to Elizabeth and James that they have to take drastic steps to protect Rosie’s wellbeing, so she is sent to a wilderness program.  Maybe some of you caught the reality show that was one a few years ago about some problem kids that had been sent to a wilderness program—anyone, anyone?  I caught it of course, not to mention I knew people in high school that had been sent to such programs.  Anyway, Rosie has all contact severed with anyone back home.  Friends, boyfriend, Elizabeth and James.  She lives in the wilderness in sub zero temperatures and has to fend for herself.  None of the kids in the program are allowed to even speak with one another for the first few days.  It pretty much sounds like hell on earth, right?  Personally, I hate camping.  Camping in the freezing cold for weeks on end with no real food and no clean clothes or showering sounds like hell on earth.  That is why this portion of the book captivated me.  It was definitely my favorite part!

I had a sick feeling in my stomach pretty much throughout the duration of Imperfect Birds.  I for sure was not the most well behaved teenager around (just ask my mom!) so I found the book completely believable.  There is no one more capable of manipulation on this planet than a teenage girl.  It is just the truth.  So while I enjoyed this book and found it compelling, it also scared the bejeesus out of me.  And it was also a parental reminder that we have to be tough on our kids sometimes in order to ensure that they turn into well rounded adults.  Parenting isn’t the easiest thing and your kid is always going to tell you they hate you at some point or another, but you’ve got to stand your ground.  So, as you can see, this was almost like a parenting book for me!  Don’t fret though—there is still a lot to take away from Imperfect Birds even if you are not a parent.

Other Reviews:

Both Eyes Book Blog

The Girl from the Ghetto

Bibliophile by the Sea

I borrowed this book from my local library.

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7 Responses

  1. That book sounds amazing! I could probably handle it since we’re past the teen years in our house now – my baby will be 23 this year. Yikes!

  2. With daughters aged 7 and 5, just reading your review makes me want to either stop time and keep them as they are OR fast forward to when they’re in their 20s… I may have to give this book some thought before I pick it up.

  3. There is nothing worse than a teenage girl. I don’t have kids, but I’m the oldest in my generation by quite a bit and have had to live through too many female cousins with more still coming up… Maybe I’ll make some of them read this book.

  4. I don’t know – I see teenage girls a lot more positively than that. Maybe I’m just an incorrigible optimist, or maybe the memory of my own sheltered and quiet teen years is still too fresh 😛 Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your step daughter!

  5. I do remember the TV show about the wilderness. It was called Brat Camp or something?

    Like Nymeth, I don’t see teenage girls like that. For the most part, I was a “good” teenager – yeah, I had my moments, but who didn’t? I don’t think I was ever actually manipulative or anything though, and my parents were way too clever to ever let me play them against each other! 🙂

    Book does sound fascinating though, and being a twenty-five year old, I figure it might be an interesting read!

  6. I love Anne Lamott, but I love her nonfiction much more than her fiction.

    I left this one on the side of a road, midway through the story.

  7. I found this book to be incredibly boring and predictable. Here’s my review: http://bookblogbydana.blogspot.com/2011/04/imperfect-birds.html

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