Published in: 2002
Age Range: Young Teens
- Robert Nobel is the timid class misfit, picked on by Jonathan Niker and liked, although pitied, by Kate Barber. His parents are separated and he escapes from the reality of day-to-day by dreaming that he can fly.
- Edith Sorrel is an old woman dying of cancer in the Mayfield Rest Home. When Robert's class start a project talking to the residents there, she asks for Robert especially.
Robert Nobel, class pariah, becomes involved with the elderly and dying Edith Sorrel who persuades him to overcome his fears and to go to the top of Chance House, a derelict building nearby, and to make her a coat of feathers so that she — like the Firebird in the legend — might sing again.
Robert sees in these requests something which is up to him to do and which he believes might save Mrs Sorrel from the cancer which is eating her up. This purpose gives him strength to overcome Niker's jibes, to live up to Kate's expectations, and to come to terms with his own reality.
General: First-person narrative by the 12-year-old boy, self-explaining but insightful, draws you inside his motives for carrying out the wishes of a dying woman, a series of actions which force him to overcome his own fears and limitations.
Friendship: Although Robert is the class Victim, and Niker the Kingpin, the situation is not black-and-white. Niker is prepared to offer his friendship in private but not to lose his public position at school. Robert is resentful of Niker's superiority but comes to an uneasy agreement with him after they spend the night alone in a deserted house.
In his own way, Niker does get to know his resident at the Mayfield, in spite of her obvious battiness, and he is proud to be chosen to produce the picture of the firebird's coat of feathers to complete the display of materials from the class project. In the end, Robert says, he and Niker became “if not friends, then respectful of each other.”
Families: Robert's father left his mother after at least one violent episode.
“Have you been to the house?” She interrupts, nice Gran suddenly going hard around the edges.
I pause. “Sort of”.
“And?” She leans forward.
“It's all boarded up.”
Her still dark eyebrows knit across her brow. “So?”
“You can't get in.”
She gives me that see-right-through-you look. “You can do anything,” she says, “if you want to enough.”
I'm not fast enough to say, “But do I want to, do I really want to go into that house?” So she says:
“Pass me my stick!”
I hand her the ebony cane with the silver top. She throws back her covers, swings her feet to the edge of the bed and bangs the stick on the floor. I check my face and hands. No scaly throat. No webbed fingers.
I find the pink quilted affair in the cupboard. She refuses my help to put it on. Pulls it around her angry body. Jerks and twists at the belt, while I watch uselessly. “There!” Finally she has some sort of knot. She smiles triumphantly.
“I could have been a singer,” she announces, as though we're in the middle of an argument about the subject. “I had a beautiful voice,” they said. But he wouldn't let me. Said it wasn't a suitable occupation for a woman. I wasn't to do it. Even though I had a place at college. I had to give it up. Wasn't to sing.“ She turns to me, eyes ablaze. ”But I did.“
Monday 3rd January 2005