The Ostrich and Other Lost Things, by Beth Hautala, was a story I could not put down. Seriously. I read it in two days.
Eleven-year-old Olivia wishes things could go back to the way they were before her brother Jacob lost his toy ostrich. Ever since he lost it, his autism has seemed much worse. Olivia loves Jacob, but is frustrated with his meltdowns. She wishes she had a more “normal” family, where they don’t have to do things in any particular way, don’t have to worry about crowds or driving slowly on back roads, and don’t have a bunch of doctors and therapists coming over to the house to “observe”. Maybe, if Olivia can find the toy ostrich, things will go back to how they were before.
When the local community theater holds auditions for a children’s production of Olivia’s favorite play, Peter Pan, Olivia jumps at the chance to do something for herself. She auditions and gets the part of Peter, which is great except that her parents push Jacob to audition too. With Jacob in the play, Olivia knows something will go wrong. It always does.
Of course, things go crazy onstage and off. What’s crazier than a real, live ostrich that keeps escaping from the local traveling zoo and showing up in Olivia’s backyard? Is he trying to send her a message about things that are lost? About the power of Jacob’s toy ostrich to return things to normal?
As Olivia befriends Charlie, a blind boy who lives with his mom in a trailer behind the traveling zoo, she discovers that “normal” doesn’t mean what she thinks it does. Olivia loves Charlie’s positive spirit and willingness to help search for Jacob’s toy. But when Olivia opens up about her frustrations with her brother, Charlie questions her. He says, “So, just to be sure I’m getting this straight, you want the kind of family where everyone is healthy? And where you can do stuff together, and go places together, and everyone behaves themselves, and no one gets too worked up? So, not like the kind of family that lives at a zoo, and where someone is blind or anything? Normal like that?”
Instantly, Olivia is sorry. When she’s around Charlie, it isn’t awkward or scary or weird at all. But understandably, Charlie doesn’t want to be her friend right now. Olivia feels all alone. Jacob’s meltdowns are turning physical, he has an outburst during Peter Pan, and then he destroys her beloved costume.
And then the worst thing of all happens. Jacob goes missing. He runs away from home and Olivia knows it’s because of a mean thing she said to him.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I will leave you with this quote from Charlie, a good friend who teaches Olivia a few things about love and forgiveness:
“Look, people who are hurting say and do hurtful things,” he went on. “…when you hurt someone you love, either by accident or on purpose, you can always go back and work on the broken places. They might not look exactly like they did before, but they can be even better in the end. Stronger.”
And here’s a closing thought from Olivia:
“Charlie and my brother and an ostrich had shown me how to look inside people, where they were the most real, the most lost, and to love them anyway.”
As Olivia says, learning to love is hard.
But there’s nothing more important.
My rating: Five stars. Heartfelt, lyrical writing. A story that will open your heart to the power of unconditional love.
The Ostrich and Other Lost Things is coming February, 2018 from Philomel Books.
Here’s where you can preorder this amazing book: