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Literature / The Someday Birds

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The Someday Birds is a middle-grade novel by Sally J. Pla. Charlie, a bird-obsessed twelve-year-old autistic boy, suffers upheaval when his war journalist father is brain-damaged by an explosion in Afghanistan. Charlie's father and grandmother travel across the country for medical treatments, leaving Charlie, his fifteen-year-old sister Davis, and his ten-year-old twin brothers Joel and Jake alone. Davis decides to take her siblings on a road trip to Virginia, and Charlie struggles to cope with the disruption in his routine. He decides to look for his Someday Birds, a list he and his dad made of birds he would like to see in the wild someday.

The Someday Birds contains examples of:

  • Bird-Poop Gag: Doodie, a bird at a parrot rescue, gets free from his leg leash, lands on Charlie's head, and poops. The worker has to clean his hair with wet wipes.
  • Character Tics: Ludmila and Charlie both flap their hands when they're upset.
  • Cope by Creating: Gram deals with worry during Dad's surgery by knitting about a dozen caps for him.
  • Disgusting Public Toilet: The toilet in the camper is so foul-smelling that Charlie refuses to use it. When the travelers arrive at a convenience store, he rushes to the bathroom, only to find a concrete cinder block with no toilet paper and an empty soap dispenser. Charlie is so desperate that he goes anyway, but he can feel his hands crawling with germs, and insists on going to another public restroom ten miles away so he can wash them.
  • Exhausted Eye Bags: Gram has purple wedges under her eyes on the day of Dad's surgery.
  • Foster Kid: When Ludmila and her brother Amar arrived in the United States, they were split up. Amar was sent to a military school for boys, while Ludmila went through a series of foster homes. Some were good, and some were terrible. Her favorite was the astrophysicist Dr. Joan, with whom she is still in contact.
  • Full-Name Basis: Charlie never refers to Davis's boyfriend Jonathan Dylan Daniels by anything other than his full name, although Davis calls him Jonathan.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Gram does this a lot. Davis calls it sideways swearing.
  • Hates Being Touched: Being touched, especially without warning, makes Charlie's skin crawl.
  • Maternity Crisis: When Ludmila was nine, her mother went into labor during the Siege of Sarajevo, when the family was hiding in the basement of their apartment building. She left to go to the maternity hospital, which was bombed shortly after she arrived. She and the baby never made it out.
  • Missing Mom: Charlie's mom was killed by a drunk driver when he was a toddler.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: At the waterpark, Charlie at first refuses to go on the big slide, but decides to go when the twins make fun of him for being scared.
  • Not So Extinct: While searching for Shaw's house in a Virginia marsh, Charlie finds a stand of trees full of Carolina parakeets, which he added to the Someday Birds list as a joke. Shaw's letter to Charlie requests that Charlie tell no one - the birds are the product of genomic research and have a foothold in one microenvironment, and Shaw worries that attention from the outside world will destroy the birds' ability to survive in the wild.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Charlie names the dog the twins adopt Tiberius, after the ornithologist Tiberius Shaw, PhD.
  • Picky Eater: Charlie hates most of the food served at restaurants. He orders chicken nuggets whenever possible, since those are usually edible, but even then he rejects nuggets that look bad.
  • Put Off Their Food: Charlie gets up early and sees two vultures start eating a deer. After that, he doesn't want to eat breakfast and considers becoming a vegetarian.
  • Sensory Overload: Charlie has an extremely sensitive nose. Smells that don't bother other people leave him gagging and feeling like he might faint.
  • Stress Vomit: Joel vomits up his Twizzlers after Jonathan Dylan Daniels crashes the car.
  • Struggling Single Father: When the siblings were little, their dad was working two jobs while trying to finish his teaching degree and raise the kids alone. He was so tired that he kept falling asleep during the bedtime story.
  • Tears of Joy: Everyone except Charlie starts crying when their dad talks to them for the first time in months.
  • There Will Be Toilet Paper: In the hospital, Charlie's dad has a shaving nick stanched with toilet paper on his chin.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Charlie has a violent hatred of ticks. When he finds one on him in a public bathroom, he shrieks, flings it into the sink, and jumps up and down in panic.