The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell
Nov 26, 2012
I picked up The Aviary back in October (is it really almost December now?!). It was on my to-read list, and I honestly couldn't remember what prompted me to put it there, but it looked like a great pre-Halloween read; it is set at the turn of the (20th) century, and the main character lives in a large, old, somewhat dilapidated house. Add in a few murders, a fifty-year-old mystery, a few hints at a ghost, and a flock of enchanted birds, and it was even more perfectly spooky than I thought it would be.
Clara Dooley is eleven years old. She and her mother live with Mrs. Glendoveer (along with the housekeeper, Ruby) and care for her in her old age. Clara is never allowed to leave the mansion because she is frail and sickly from a weak heart. Mrs. Glendoveer keeps a cage of five exotic birds. One morning when Clara is out on the grounds, one of the birds begins frantically screaming, "Elliot! Elliot!" Clara tells Mrs. Glendoveer about the bird's strange behavior, and Mrs. Glendoveer doesn't seem all that surprised. She alludes to some disturbing events from her past, but Clara doesn't want to pry. Then, Mrs. Glendoveer gets very sick and dies (sorry, that was a bit abrupt). Without quite intending to, Clara sets out to solve the Glendoveer mystery: What happened to the Glendoveer children? Why do the people in Clara's small town regard the Glendoveer's with such distrust and fear? Why is Clara never allowed beyond the grounds? And what are the birds trying to tell her?
I didn't even realize this was a mystery when I started reading it, but I loved that it was. And really, it was just the kind of mystery I like: while it does involve up to seven possible murders, they happened fifty years before the book takes place, so there wasn't anything descriptive or graphic. Also, I thought the book was paced really, really well--the first half was set up with lots of unanswered questions, and the second half brought all of the pieces together one by one. I also liked this story because there was just a hint at the supernatural/fantastical--nothing too crazy or unbelievable but enough that it was different and intriguing.
And then, I have to say that the setting was perfect. I tend to like stories that are set in the early 1900's anyway, but in a creaky old mansion with dark closets and dusty trunks and a locked up attic room? Mmmm, yes. Definitely worth getting lost in.
I wish I could say more about the birds because they ended up being some of my favorite "characters," but I don't want to ruin it for anyone, so I'll leave it at that.
I also really liked Clara's friend, Daphne. She complemented Clara really well, although I did think their friendship took off a little too quickly. Then again, Clara was so starved for friendship that I guess it was only natural for her not to waste any time.
I've read other books like this one where I liked everything about them until the very end, but then all of a sudden things wrapped up much too quickly. I think this is an easy trap to fall into when you've set up the whole book trying not to reveal too much so that then, when the questions do start being answered, everything gets answered all at once because it's too difficult to continue to pace the story and hold back little bits of information. Anyway, I'm happy to say that did not happen with this book. By the end, all of the dangling strings were tied up, but Kathleen O'Dell maintained a perfect pace throughout. What's more, even though some of the resolutions were a surprise, they all made sense and nothing was out of character with the beginning of the book.
This definitely was a good book for October, but you could read it at any time of the year, and as long as you're in the mood for a good, old-fashioned mystery, you will come away satisfied.