A long Bank Holiday weekend provided the opportunity to read and review another book from my #BeatTheBacklist challenge which is hosted by Austine Decker on her brilliant blog.
I bought Twitch as soon as it was published, being a huge fan of detective fiction and previous middle grade novels written by M.G. Leonard, the Beetle Boy Trilogy, and the Adventures on Trains series written in partnership with Sam Sedgman. I am embarrassed at how long it has taken for Twitch to climb to the top of the TBR and can only plead that the number of books I have received from publishers has buried many of my own purchases in the reviewing trolley!
Anyway, having finally picked it up, I devoured the novel almost as rapidly as the blue tits empty the sunflower seed container hanging in my garden! This is an astonishingly good middle grade novel, not only is it a perfectly plotted detective mystery, but the carefully researched and organically interwoven ornithological content makes it uniquely educational. I was incredibly lucky at my primary school in a little Hampshire village (many, many years ago) to have a teacher who was a member of the RSPB and taught my entire class to love the UK’s bird life and I think this book will do the same for today’s children. The idea of using the observational skills of a bird-watcher to turn him into a child detective is brilliant and delivered with all the aplomb that I have come to expect from this author.
Main protagonist, Twitch real name Corvus Featherstone, is an outsider and the target of bullies at his secondary school. He has no friends, but is dedicated to “birding” a passion that was passed on to him by his now deceased grandfather. He spends all of his free time at Aves Wood, which he knows like the back of his hand, and in which he has constructed a living “hide” from which he can observe kingfishers, woodpeckers, geese and the other avian inhabitants of the woodland. As term ends, Twitch is rescued from the attentions of Jack and his gang of bullies by Billy, a newcomer to the town, whom he befriends. The tension then ratchets up another notch when Twitch finds that Aves Wood is full of police officers who are on the trail of an escaped prisoner “Robber Ryan”. Soon the town is full of rumours that £5 million cash stolen from an armed raid on a security van is buried in the woods, and more than one party seems to be interested in getting their hands on the loot.
The plot has more twists and turns than a rabbit track through the undergrowth, with new-found friendships, manipulated betrayals, comic moments and heart-in-the-mouth action. Twitch is an immensely likeable character, his relationships with his mother and his elderly neighbour Amita are full of love and respect, and his journey through the intricacies of human friendships generates a great deal of empathy. The narrative practically flutters with reverence for our feathered friends, as Twitch educates Jack in the behaviour of his local birds and shows him the training routine of his pigeon squabs, Frazzle and Squeaker, so he educates the reader too. In the same way that the Beetle Boy books educated their readers on the wonders of entomology, Twitch and I suspect the subsequent books in the series, will do the same for ornithology. As many before me have said, Twitch is an essential book for school libraries, I would suggest for both primary and secondary schools, and I would also recommend it as a perfect summer holiday present for any child of 9-14 (it would be a brilliant shared read with adults too). I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did and now I am off to track down a copy of Spark!
This review is for a book purchased by me.