With a beautiful feather-covered book jacket, Call Me Alastair caught my attention in more ways than one. I’ve never read a book where one of the central protagonists is a parrot! An impressive literary middle grade debut by American author, Cory Leonardo and published by Scholastic, Call Me Alastair will tug at your heart strings.
Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo
Born in the back of a pet store, Alastair the parrot dreams of escape. But when his sister Aggie is purchased by a big-hearted boy, and Alastair is adopted by a lonely widow, his hopes for the future crash-land. In between anxiously plucking his feathers, chewing a few books, and finding his own poetic voice, Alastair plots his way back to Aggie and their flight to freedom.
Call Me Alastair is a moving and quirky tale, unlike anything I’ve read before. Told through the eyes of three characters: Alastair, the literary parrot who has never known freedom and is fiercely protective of his sister; Fritz a twelve year old boy who helps in the pet store and recently lost his grandfather; and Bertie, a feisty widow trying to find purpose after the death of her husband. Each character is struggling to find their freedom – whether this be literally, in Alastair’s case, or freedom from grief and loneliness. Alastair has a habit of eating books, and often ‘regurgitates’ these literary snacks in the form of poetry, reflecting much about his state of mind as he comes to terms with being separated from his sister. Fritz’s voice is heard through a medical log, sharing his desire to be a doctor and giving glimpses into the daily grind of life and being a bit different. And Bertie’s story comes through the beautiful letters she writes to her husband of many years who has passed away; whilst trying hard to maintain a jovial attitude, it is clear just how much she misses him. Their stories intertwine and each helps the other find acceptance and friendship.
The lingering narrative draws you in, tugging at your heart, creating empathy and understanding in a truly unexpected way. There is also light-hearted humour – particularly from the other residents of the pet shop who have many and varied views; a brilliant insight into what the world of domestic pets might be like! You can’t help but love Alastair, despite his crankiness and moments of melancholy; after all wouldn’t we all feel like that if we were separated from the one we love most in the world? Fritz is just the most gorgeous boy, full of love and care and trying hard to make amends for things that just aren’t his fault. And Bertie, well, I just wanted to give her a great big hug and be her friend.
Call Me Alastair is a story to make time for; a wonderfully written tale of three very different characters who inadvertently help each other see they are not alone in the world. Help and happiness can come from the most unexpected places but that is often one of the joys of life. I think Call Me Alastair demonstrates this beautifully.
With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.