When Zinny was very young, her and her cousin Rose both got very sick with whooping cough. Zinny recovered and grew up into the young woman we meet in Chasing Redbird. Rose died from the ailment, which not only took her life, but left a scar on the family. A few years later, her Aunt Jesse dies. Between losing his wife and his daughter, Uncle Nate starts to go a bit crazy. He says he sees Aunt Jessie, or Redbird, when he goes for his walks.
About six months later, things start to change. A boy named Jake Boone, bent on earning Zinny’s affection, walks in to her life. He does this by showering her with presents, including some he received in ways not entirely legal. Zinny, however, believes that he is just like all the other boys in the past, using her to get to May, her sister.
At the same time, Zinny discovers a overgrown trail that she takes on as her summer project. She clears the trail for a long time, until she realizes she can’t keep walking home every night. She decides to camp out on the trail. Every ten days she is required to come home to show her parents that everything is well. As she clears the trail, she discovers secrets about her family that no one had talked about for fear of picking at the scar left by the tragic deaths in her family. She also realizes that she has an observer watching her along the way keeping her safe from harm as she camps along the Bybanks trail.
Chasing Redbird is the type of book that lets you live the life of the character. Zinny is very easy to relate to. When Sharon Creech described the way Zinny was feeling a certain points in the book, I understood completely, for I had felt that way many times. For example, Zinny is confused about Jake Boone. She likes him, but doesn’t want to get too close for fear he is using her. I’ve felt like that before. Does the boy really like me or is he leading me on? Do I even like him? How do you know?
Another main theme in Chasing Redbird is family. Zinny needs to feel like herself, not just one of the Taylor kids. She loves her family, but they get on her nerves, like most families. The trail is her way of doing something special, to make her different from her brothers and sisters. She could have been like Ben, who only ate beans or Gretchen, who only wore green, but she decided to do something more than changing her clothes and diet.
Chasing Redbird also talks about grief. It helps you to understand that people grieve in different ways. Zinny took the blame on herself. She gave Rose whooping cough. She showed Aunt Jesse the medallion. Uncle Nate saw things that weren’t there. Aunt Jesse had tried to replace Rose with Zinny. If you understand why people do things, you can help. This transfers off the page into our lives too.
Although Chasing Redbird isn’t likely to be a classic, it still was very good. I’d recommend it to teenagers, because most adults wouldn’t know how to ‘be the character’.