From the very first page of Natalie Lloyd’s Hummingbird, the unforgettable spirit of 12-year-old Olive Miracle Martin shines.
Olive has been home-schooled because she has a medical condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes her bones to break very easily. Olive is filled with joy-kabooms (“joy and excitement all mixed together”) as she confesses that her “prayer, and wish, and wildest hope” is to attend Macklemore Middle School.
Olive’s parents agree that it’s time for her to try attending traditional school. There, she is soon swept up into a grand adventure: the search for a legendary hummingbird said to grant a wish to whomever finds it. The only problem is that everyone else in Olive’s small town of Wildwood, Tennessee, is on the hunt too. Nonetheless, Olive is certain she can locate the creature. When she does, she plans to make the biggest wish of all.
Lloyd situates Olive amid a large cast of characters and several memorable settings. Olive shares a warmly supportive home with her blended family, whose cottage is deep in the supposedly haunted Piney Woods near “a mountain town full of folktales.” Macklemore Middle School is an equally enchanting place that features unusual therapy animals (a sloth named Bon Jovi and a llama named Edna) and an aviary converted to a library.
At Macklemore, Olive makes new friends and takes an instant liking to her creative, encouraging teacher, Mr. Watson. Eventually, she auditions for the school play, a production based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson called “Hope Like Features.” These scenes link the novel’s avian motifs with the mix of wonder and isolation that deep-thinking Olive experiences throughout the novel.
At times, Lloyd’s prose shifts into lines of free verse poetry, and these moments are often among the novel’s most powerful. “Fragile is what I’ll always be. I get that. / But I am / a thousand other things, too,” Olive reflects. “I’m / whole constellations / of wonders and weirdness / and hope.”
Like Olive, Lloyd also has osteogenesis imperfecta, and she writes about living with a serious medical condition with sensitivity. Readers will quickly understand Olive’s frustrations and desires: There’s no ramp to the stage where she longs to perform, and when she drops her tray during her first visit to the school cafeteria, she wonders whether attending Macklemore might have been a mistake.
Hummingbird is a rare novel, as exceptional as the magical hummingbird at its center. Lloyd’s writing will bring to mind some of the most beloved creators of children’s literature, such as Kate DiCamillo and Judy Blume. With exceptional style and empathy, Hummingbird exquisitely addresses weighty themes in a jubilant yet realistic way, broken bones and all. As Olive herself declares, “Nobody can stick this bird in a tree. . . . I am born to fly!”