Spook Hollow. Sleepy Bear Rock. Baby Toe Ridge. Crow Hollow. Bear Alley Creek. These are the places of Sharon Creech’s novel Chasing Redbird. More than any other book I’ve read recently, Chasing Redbird led me down a trail and into a place both strange and spooky yet oddly familiar. It’s a trail blazed by thirteen-year-old Zinny Taylor, who uncovers a few stones of an ancient trail and decides to spend her summer discovering the rest. Luckily, she invites the readers along, and from the first page, we realize that’s an honor. After all, Zinny won’t allow her parents or any of her multitude of siblings or even her handsome—though repeatedly rejected—suitor Jake to come along on her adventure. (On the other hand, she wouldn't mind a horse.)
Still, Zinny’s not alone on her expedition. Not at all. She’s accompanied by the ghosts of her beloved Aunt Jessie and her cousin Rose who was her best friend until Rose died of whooping cough at age four. And Zinny's self-doubts follow her along the trail as well. She’s not sure if she’s “Zinny Taylor: Murderer” or “Zinny Taylor: Explorer” or “Zinny Taylor: Thief” or “Zinny Taylor: Detective.” She’s not really sure who she is at all.
There is so much to love about Chasing Redbird. There are those places along the trail with their beauty and their legends. There’s earnest Jake Boone, who chases Zinny by stealing things for her, despite her repeated rejections. (Zinny thinks Jake must be interested in her older sister May.) There’s Zinny’s big, messy family with its love and sadness and charming chaos. There’s Zinny’s Uncle Nate, a man who carries a stick to beat away snakes (and the occasional coiled rope) and who dances with his wife long after she’s passed away (Uncle Nate: Make That Company Jump!). There’s the freed turtle in the creek and the cardinal who finally finds his mate and flowers that grow from eggshells (kind of). And there’s Zinny herself: stubborn and earnest and crazy and brave and difficult and wonderful.
And there are moments like this, when Zinny’s waiting for dark on the first night camping out on her trail:
…there was no moment of dark. Instead, what I saw was the most subtle shading in the sky, a gradual deepening of color, so gradual that you could not actually see the changes, but could only think, Is that the color it was a moment ago? Isn’t it deeper now? Is it dark yet? Is this dark? Soon I noticed the white specks of stars, but still they weren’t draped on a black sky, still it wasn’t dark. And although I watched intently, I did not see the moment of dark, and I wondered if maybe it wasn’t a moment at all. (156-7)
Capturing the reason why I fell in love with Chasing Redbird is a little like capturing the moment of dark. The fact that it remains elusive makes it all the more true.
[Creech, Sharon. Chasing Redbird. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.]