A Heart that Soars and Dances

Bird with the Heart of a Mountain, by Barbara Mariconda (Amazon Children’s Publishing)

Yes, I’m not the first to say it, but good children’s/young adult books are good books for anyone. Barbara Mariconda’s Bird with the Heart of a Mountain is an example of just such a book. Set in Spain during the civil war, the book is narrated by Drina, a young woman who is half Romany, half Spaniard. At the book’s start, she is living with her mother among a small Romany group, but that life is upended when her mother is raped by a Nationalist soldier.

That rape sets in motion a series of events that lead Drina to unexpected places and people—and on each step of that journey she wrestles with the question of her own identity. Lots of people, especially certain young men, are eager to tell her who she should be, but she has the sense to realize that the real question is who she is.

Drina longs to be a dancer—and it’s this desire, along with her own questions about her identity that drive the narrative. The passages about dance—flamenco—and music are beautifully written, cultural history lessons themselves, and the book deals with history in other ways as well.

I first wanted to read this book because I was curious how it would make use of its setting in the Spanish Civil War. The war is background here, but important background that shapes the temperaments of many of the people she meets. As a Romany, Drina is so marginalized that neither side represents her. Both Nationalists and Republicans are more than willing to attack and pillage Romany groups. While the narrative makes clear that the position of some characters is more “correct” than that of others, this story never descends into a simple good side/bad side binary. Like the war itself, people are complicated, mixes of good and bad, sometimes compassionate, sometimes blind to the lives of those around them.

This book is currently available from Amazon in hardcover and electronic versions. The electronic version sells for only $3.99, so it’s most definitely worth taking a chance on—whether you’re buying it for yourself or for a younger friend.

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