Berenice Flynn, known as Birdy, is aged 12 in 1982. She lives in a working-class English milieu with an Irish Catholic mother and a Protestant Liverpudlian father. She has two older siblings, Eileen and Noel. This is a family with a mass of secrets, most of which will be explored in revelatory mode throughout Donohoe’s book. As Birdy narrates her story, we learn that she is uncertain about her sexuality and suspects she may be transgender, though that term is never used in the text. Her introduction to sexuality is both confused and painful.
Birdy’s story is also confused. Her reactions to events are mixed. Some aspects of her character revealed by the action are frankly unattractive and sometimes unexplained. Moreover an abundance of serious issues fly around the book, including sexual abuse, low educational attainment and the political questions surrounding Irish independence. For all these reasons reading this novel becomes a testing experience, one which some readers may decide to be too demanding.
These difficulties mean that an otherwise excellent book finds it hard to command the respect it deserves.