"Ennis found a bird. He stood like a fence post, straight and still and about half as tall, cupping the small brown sparrow between his chubby palms and looking down in sorrow. Its feathers were softer than he had imagined and it didn't try to peck him or escape as he'd expected. Its tiny talons scratched him lightly and tickled his skin. Its dark blank eyes stared open, yet its body didn't move."
Fireflies by PS Bartlett is an enchanting story of the close-knit Whelan family, coming to terms with their unusual youngest member.
Set in the tiny village of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth century, an Irish family's life is about to change. A big family, Owen and Sarah support their seven children, Fagan, Connell, Liffey, Teagan, Brogan, Patrick and Ennis.
Ennis was always an unusual baby, starting with his birth. He didn't cry out for many minutes after the delivery, and his parents feared the worst. Six years later, they cherish their little miracle, but being to notice he has a mature temperament far beyond his years.
The other children are growing up too, and the oldest will be leaving the nest any day now. Fagan is enchanted with a young woman down the street, and the two girls (Teagan and Liffey) are becoming women- finally noticing the men around them. But Teagan is ahead of the times. Her father is a doctor and she desperately wants to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, this is the era where genders have their specific roles. Men go out and work, women take care of the homestead and children. Teagan will have none of it.
However, her dreams are the last thing on her mind when Ennis begins to act strangely. First the bird- which Teagan was sure was dead. Then the cut on her hand, that mysteriously vanished after Ennis touched it. As the week progresses, as do Ennis's odd, new powers and soon the entire family is aware of them. Their only thoughts are of protecting the young boy, but what should they do? Who can they tell? Can they protect him? Are these powers a curse or a gift?
This is a captivating story. Somewhere between an Irish 'Little Women', "Little House on the Prairie' and its own story. It has the same rustic appeal, with the story relying on the characters to carry it. And oh do they carry it. Mixed in the the daily life of the Whelan family, is the plot around Ennis. His powers are done pretty subtley, and I wouldn't call this a paranormal book. I would say it's more historical slice-of-life, mixed in with a little coming-of-age, a little romance, and a dash of fantasy.
The story itself spans two generations. As their children grow and begin to think about starting their own families, both Sarah and Owen have flashbacks to their youths in Ireland, and the differences between them, as well as the coincidences that brought them both to America, where they met for the first time. Their strong, constant love, entwines with the new, exciting love their children are beginning to experience in a poetic contrast.
The story explores the complex relationships between one person and the next. How easily they can be made and how easily broken. How they can subtly shift or slowly fade. The bonds that can be made or lost. The potentials that were never realised and the unconditionals that are there through it all.
Ennis's powers are a little reminiscent of those of John from 'The Green Mile'. Even their personalities are a little similar- they're both very aware of the world, both soft-spoken, they never complain. If you were to be a healer, these would be the ideal components for it, so it's not surprising that they have similarities.
The characters are as realistic a band of personalities as you can get. The relationships they have with each other as so vivid, that you can forget sometimes that they aren't real people. This is especially true of the family. They are the core of this story. It's how they react to the changes in Ennis that makes this book so good. As the story progresses, a nervous energy settles over the house, and each family member goes through an almost 'five stages of grief' phase. Their inability to understand what's happening, mixed with their fear for Ennis builds and merges until it bursts out of them through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance, guilt, fear and confusion.
The ending is nothing if not feel-good, and will leave you wishing for more of the lovely Whelan family. This is one of the few books I've read that kept me guessing till the end. I honestly had no idea how it would or could end. Once you get there, the reasons for the events become clear, but a little confused. I was left wondering why, but in the end it really didn't matter. I didn't read the story for the why, I read it for the who- for the family that are so warm and caring, and will take you in as one of their own. For the charm and description.
Because the description is beautiful and incredibly immersive. I could feel the summer heat, softened by a gentle breeze, as the fireflies glide around lazily and the crickets serenade the night. It's full of the simple pleasures of life, mixed in with a little magical wonderment.
A story that reminds me of lights on a Christmas Tree, glowing in the darkness- beautiful, safe and a reminder of the love and happiness you share with the people whose names are scattered beneath it. Reading this book is like going to sleep content, with a smile on your face. There is simply nothing else like it.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.