Esther Ehrlich
  • Review
By – July 16, 2014

Nao­mi Chirp” Oren­stein is an eleven-year-old liv­ing with her fam­i­ly on Cape Cod in the 70s going through the pangs of grow­ing up and yearn­ing for inde­pen­dence. But when her moth­er, a pro­fes­sion­al dancer estranged from her immi­grant par­ents falls ill, every­thing changes. Chirp’s psy­chi­a­trist father is over- whelmed, and it’s up to Chirp and her old­er sis­ter to hold their fam­i­ly together. 

Chirp finds solace in nature and bird watch­ing, and her knowl­edge of the habits of birds often turns into an anal­o­gy for the chaos unfold­ing in her own life, hence the novel’s title. 

As the only Jew­ish fam­i­ly in their com­mu­ni­ty, the Oren­stein girls are already used to feel­ing on the out­side, and through Chirp’s empa­thet­ic eyes we’re intro­duced to her col­or­ful cast of friends: Joey, the boy across the street who comes from a dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly and is often scared to go home, and Dawn, a class­mate of Chirp’s who strug­gles with learn­ing issues. Chirp has lived her life on the out­side, and her unique per­spec­tive makes her a com­pas­sion­ate nar­ra­tor, wise beyond her years. 

Though Judaism is in no way a main focus in the book, it does pro­vide a back­ground for the Oren­stein fam­i­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly as Chirp learns what it means to her to be Jew­ish in com­par­i­son to her immi­grant moth­er, and in a com­mu­ni­ty and era in which she’s forced to face anti-Semi­tism. Read­ers who feel that their Jew­ish­ness makes them dif­fer­ent will relate to Chirp’s experiences. 

Writ­ten for ages ten and up, Ehrlich’s debut nov­el is a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten account of a young girl’s resilience. Chirp is adven­tur­ous, sen­si­tive and quirky — a nuanced char­ac­ter with whom the read­er can empathize deeply. 

Hail­ing from Amherst, MA, Cha­va Lan­sky is a stu­dent at Barnard Col­lege, where she stud­ies Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and Dance, and interns for the Jew­ish Book Council.

Discussion Questions