Perhaps I just need to stay away from award-winning bestsellers. But sometimes, my curiosity over all those stickers, prizes, and multiplying sales just can’t be contained … and then I get trapped in a vacuum of disappointment and tedium from which I’m stubbornly unable to extract myself. A problem of my own making, I realize, and still I haven’t learned my lesson, egads!
For those of you aren’t yet convinced about picking up this massively-hailed debut novel, allow me to suggest these recent war narratives as preferable choices: Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil or The Blind Man’s Garden, Stephen Dau’s The Book of Jonas, or even Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis’ Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am for young adult readers. In comparison, Yellow Birds is a testosterone-fueled rant lacking the elegance, nuance, and subtlety that define other, exceptional titles. [For those who choose the audible route, narrator Holter Graham fuels the 'angry young man'-role with convincing relish.] That said, Birds is surely the latest necessary testimony to the hopeless waste of war; perhaps that reason alone is spiking its sales.
Two soldiers are headed to Iraq, having enlisted in a faraway crusade they don’t fully understand. In a moment buzzing with high emotion just before deployment, the narrator, John Bartle, makes an impossible promise to the mother of a younger soldier, Daniel Murphy, that he would take care of her son. At 21 and 18, respectively, Bartle and Murph, are as yet barely grown men – their struggle to survive the brutal warzone will prove to be an even greater battle to hold on to their humanity.
The opening epigraph – and titular inspiration – perfectly encapsulates the unrelenting contents that follow: “A yellow bird / With a yellow bill / Was perched upon / My windowsill // I lured him in / With a piece of bread / And then I smashed / His f**king head … / — Traditional U.S. Army Marching Cadence.” For the wary, that might have been enough warning to choose an alternative read. Clearly, I wasn’t paying enough attention from the very beginning … I mindlessly marched on toward grave consequences.