“Be careful,” I say.
He looks at me, his eyes wide, his red hair lit up by the setting sun…
…Red’s hands clench and unclench in small fists.
He’s working it out, planning every move in his mind. He has to take five steps across the lagoon of green carpet, only letting the soles of his feet touch the brown threadbare patches before he reaches safety. I keep my fingers crossed he gets it right first time. If he gets it wrong he’ll make himself start all the way back in the bathroom with brushing his teeth again…
…Red pulls his blanket tighter round him. “And we’ll always be together?”
“Always,” I say. “Just you and me in that little boat, as evening falls, watching the scarlet ibis flying back to Caroni Swamp.”
Published by Oxford University Press on 1st May 2014
Pages – 203
Scarlet is used to looking after her brother, Red, a little boy with complex difficulties. But when disaster strikes their fragile family, Scarlet and Red are separated and Scarlet knows she has to do whatever it takes to get her brother back...
Reviewed by author, Jill Atkins
I jumped at the chance to review this book as I have read and loved Jill Lewis’s previous novels and I couldn’t wait to read it.
From the first page Scarlet Ibis gripped me. In Scarlet’s troubled life only one thing matters and that is keeping her little brother Red safe. But that’s easier said than done. Red is very hard to manage and their mum suffers from her own mental health problems. Scarlet has been keeping the family together for years.
By caring so deeply for Red, Scarlet has discovered how befriending birds and collecting feathers, keep him on an even keel and this is a central theme throughout the story. Red’s obsession with his feathers and birds gets him into trouble a few times, but Scarlet and a few sympathetic adults help to calm the situation. Through daring and determination, she searches for a way of ensuring that Red is safe forever.
Told in the first person, present tense, Scarlet’s voice is very strong. Her deep love for her little brother is shown clearly through her thoughts, words and actions and I found I could empathise with her as she patiently tells him his favourite story of the scarlet ibis on Caroni Swamp in Trinidad, undemonstratively copes with caring for him and their Mum and keeps ‘The Penguin’ (the social worker) at bay.
The characters of Mum and Red, the foster parents, Scarlet’s new school friends, the old bird lady, the zoo keeper, are all convincingly drawn. Even ‘The Penguin’ has a softer side to her rather officious nature.
It’s a moving, gripping book that covers relationships and serious issues of mental health in a sympathetic way. A brilliant book for middle grade! I look forward to Gill Lewis’s next one.