The middle child of seven, thirteen-year-old Zinnia Taylor is usually greeted with the phrase “Which one are you?” That is to say, everyone can identify the fact that she’s a Taylor just by looking at her, but after that… well… seven is a LOT. The book embraces the chaos of a large family, the parents who often prefix your name with the first syllable of all of your siblings, (Gretch-May-Bon…Zinny!) The shared bedrooms, and the struggle to identify yourself within such mayhem. For Zinny, her Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie’s adjacent house is a refuge: Quiet and peaceful with cross-stitched adages hanging from the walls. (Life’s a bowl of spaghetti… every now and then you get a meatball)
Having lost their own daughter Rose, Nate and Jessie take the quiet-craving Zinny under their wing. When Aunt Jessie dies unexpectedly, Uncle Nate, becomes possessed by grief, and spends his days chasing his “Redbird” through the hills of the family farm. Zinny, assigned with keeping an eye Nate and his wild excursions, accidentally discovers an old, overgrown trail and becomes as obsessed with clearing it as Uncle Nate is with finding his Redbird.
Creech’s novel, despite the fact that its aimed at younger readers, has always been a favorite. While it’s a coming of age story for the determined Zinny, who eventually distinguishes herself amongst her family through her trail, It resonates on a much deeper note as well. Loss of course, is prevalent, but more poignant is her uncle’s inability to let go, and thus grief itself becomes as dynamic a character in the plot as the rest of the family. I also revel in the chaos that surrounds the Taylors, the struggle to stand out, when everyone has a title (the smart one, the pretty one, the baby…) but you, and the constant want for quiet, only to find that in the end, all you crave is chaos.