rare bird book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Before I picked up Rare Bird to read, I felt anxious. I wasn’t sure I wanted to actually open it. The byline says it is “a memoir of loss and love” and I knew it told the story of the death of the author’s 12-year-old son, Jack. I too have a 12-year-old son, so I knew her words would resonate deeply and might poke into deep corners. It might expose fears I didn’t want to think about.

However, what I found was much different. In fact, in the introduction, before she shares her story, Anna Whiston-Donaldson tells the reader that her story is not a scary but one about a loving relationship between a mother and her boy. From the beginning, she paints the picture of a very ordinary family. Every one of them have quirks including Jack. I love that her style is conversational and very honest…even punctuated with a few choice swear words when nothing else will do.

Anna and her husband Tim are faced with every parent’s nightmare. The loss of their son Jack, swept away in a swollen creek from heavy rain and flash flooding, created a void in their family. It happened in an instant, leaving behind a family reeling from the loss of their son and brother. Of course the impact was much wider…affecting anyone who knew and loved him. Before he died, they were a unit of four and then they were three. That loss plunges Anna into a theological crisis. She begins to wrestle with God, struggling to make sense of this horrible tragedy. Initially, her experience reminded me of Job. Attempting to make sense of it all, everyone around her seemed to offer opinions on why this tragedy happened. As time passed, she shared how their family struggled to function and questioned if they were enough for each other. Each one of them mourned differently and the strain of their individual grief threatened to tear their family apart.

As Anna waded through her depression and despair, she noted that God carefully demonstrated his love for her during this time in a way that seemed foreign to her former self. She kept track of all the extraordinary things that happened and it confirmed to her that not only was God present with her family, but that Jack was loved and truly happy in heaven. Romans 8:38-39 grounded her as it continually reminded her that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God…not even death. Her story weaves her grief with loving vignettes of her son creating a blanket that softens the difficulty of her story.

I said it before, but Anna’s honesty is what makes this book a true gem. In her brokenness, she started to experience her faith in new ways. Suddenly all the rules of religion became far less important than experiencing the individual presence of God in her life. Anna’s story can be appreciated by a wide audience including those who have experienced loss or only seen it in the lives of others. She contrasts her perspective on grief before and after this tragedy and her insights highlight many ways to care for those who are hurting. Her method of processing grief is not formulaic and in that way, it allows others who grieve to question and wrestle with God and look around themselves for the unique ways that the Lord is caring for them in their time of need. Her book shares their family’s life during the two years following her son’s death. You see Anna move from utter despair toward a more trusting peaceful relationship with the Lord. Her journey of hope and healing will bless those who read it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Convergent Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.