Sarah's Stars

Shirlee Smith Matheson. Jailbird Kid
Dundurn Press $12.99 ISBN 978-1-55488-704-0 168 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 16

"Save it,” Uncle Al barked. “Now I’m a wanted man – thanks to you, Weasel. You’re good for nothing, you know that?”

The table cracked! I heard a grunt, a slap, and then another followed by a punch. I screamed, but no one heard me over the sound of someone hitting the floor and the loud, manic singing of my canary.

Jumping up, I flung open my door. But I didn’t take another step. I was looking down the barrel of a .38 Special. 

It’s Angela’s birthday when her dad is supposed to return home from jail. Three days late, he shows up; but really, what’s three days more added to the two years it’s been since Angela has seen her father? When Nick, otherwise known as “The Weasel,” returns home, and after the first periods of awkwardness, it genuinely seems like things are going well. Everyone is happy, and Angela’s dad is trying to get a steady job while taking computer classes so he can turn his talent for art into a career. But all too soon, things begin to go down the drain after Angela’s uncle shows up. Uncle Al is the mastermind behind the crimes that got Nick thrown in jail, and he wants Nick to rejoin him. Will Angela’s father make the right choice for his family?

I found Angela’s story smooth and sweet, as well as dark and desperate. It has echoes of simpler times, like when the entire family is sitting in a circle playing music, or when Angela finds joy in visiting with her extended family. As well though, Angela’s dad and uncle cast a dark shadow over the story. It’s clear that they are both struggling, and the pain and heartbreak they cause their family is sobering to read. I thought the characters were well thought out, and Angela’s family was a sweet touch of colour. Everything about the novel was honest and real, and it really captured the way one might feel in that situation, without being overly violent or depressing. In fact, Jailbird Kid has one of the most hopeful endings I’ve read in ages. While definitely not the most memorable book I’ve ever read, Jailbird Kid is sweet as honey and Angela’s trials are both heartbreakingly honest and deceptively sobering.

I give Shirlee Smith Matheson’s Jailbird Kid three and one-half stars out of five.

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