Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will likely enjoy Temre Beltz’s new tweens novel, The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom with its fractured fairy tale elements, its message that words matter, and its invitation to believe in magic.
Set in Wanderly, a kingdom that lives “by the book,” Birdie Bloom is a Tragical, an orphan sentenced to live out her days at Foulweather’s Home for the Tragical, “a house full of bad endings” (16). The children living here have been brainwashed by Mistress Octavia—who manages to put a damper on everything with her sinister plotting—to believe that they are nothing, will always have nothing, and are destined for nothing. An emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive tyrant, Mistress Octavia instructs the children in FOG classes, sharing with them ferocious, ominous, and gruesome ways they might meet their demise.
When Birdie Bloom finds a book in the Home’s kitchen, a book that mentions friendship and has several empty pages, leaving it without an ending, she decides to write her own ending. Ripping out one of the blank pages, because the Tragicals are not allowed any paper, Birdie uses it to respond to a letter that magically arrives in the dungeon one day.
Initially, Birdie is unaware that her writing campaign is with Agnes Prunella Crunch, a wicked witch in a slump and searching for a way to make witching fun again. But as the two write to one another, they find a certain kinship in their discontent and in their resistance to accept the status quo and to live the lives prescribed for them.
Through her writing, Birdie comes to realize how much words matter, that some words—like friendship—can give a person wings instead of chains, like the words tragical and wicked do. On her journey to uncover the true meaning of friendship, Birdie must combat witches, wolves, magic, and gloom. She learns not only that even the best things are scary sometimes but that sometimes we have to be torn apart for our wishes to come true. Along the way, she discovers the magic of joy, hope, and friendship in Cricket, Ralph, Ms. Crunch, and Sir Ichabod Grim—the Home’s butler who turns out to be an unsuspected ally. As these friends gradually learn the transformational power of friendship, they also find hope in a heroic rat named Sprinkles and decide that bravery looks different on us all.
While perhaps not its intent, Beltz’s book seems to comment on social classes as it invites readers to compare and contrast the social hierarchy that we all accept as our lot in life, whether we are Triumphants, Commoners, or Tragicals.
Through her characters, Beltz also explores the important question: Where would we be without hope, that irrational but powerful force with the ability to magic us back to mental health and to give us the strength to carry on against impossible odds?
- Posted by Donna