Sometimes I read criticisms of YA fiction that complain that “teens don’t really talk like that.” So what? I ask. How many adult fiction books have adults who talk like regular adults? Characters in books can be more real–sharper, funnier, more honest–than people who are just out walking in the world. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos is the realistic, moving, and very funny story of James Whitman, a 16-year-old who loves the poet Walt Whitman, hates his dad, and frequently consults with his imaginary therapist, Dr. Bird. Who is a bird.
Pigeons strike me as good listeners–they discern the voices of mates over the cacophony of the natural world. They move the right way too. A pigeon’s head-tilts suggest the kinds of things that I imagine therapists say: “Really?” or “How did that feel?” or “Tell me more.” Plus: one intense, glassy black eye staring at me, the neck-bob of agreement, the puffing of feathers when I’m being evasive.
So true. Pigeons do seem like good listeners. James’s anxiety and depression are acutely observed and equal parts sad and hilarious.
See, this is how desperate a multiday anxiety assault can make me: I construct complex reasons not to go somewhere, involving my parents, who probably wouldn’t even notice or care if I was out for an evening, and lie to my best friend, who wants to include me in something fun.
In the novel, James finds some comfort in writing–especially when a cute girl at school asks him to get involved with the literary magazine–and in finding his sister, who was “expelled from home and school with just a few months left.” He doesn’t find any easy answers to his problems, but his attempts to make it through high school and life make for a poignant and funny read. As a narrator, he’s often more clever and funny than “actual” teens–but who cares? I’d be happy to read several more books narrated by James Whitman.
Reviewed by: Teen librarian Renata
Recommended for: Fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looking for Alaska, and other books with funny/depressed narrators