Review: Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Sky Pony Press, imprint of Skyhorse Publishing. Thank you!
Publication: April 5, 2016 by Sky Pony Press
Verdict: Very Good
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo avenged the destruction of an innocent planet by helping Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Han walked away with a gold medal and the love of his life. But when Solo Hahn—named in honor of the beloved action hero—tries to avenge the death of his gray-and-white kitten, he gets eight months of community service. Eight months of working at the local raptor center helping owls—his now sworn enemies.
For the first time in his life, Solo is labeled a troubled kid, an at-risk youth. He’d always gotten good grades, had good friends, and gotten along with his parents. He used to volunteer to read Reader’s Digest to old people at the retirement home next door, and his favorite thing in the whole wide world was to surf. He wrote screenplays for fun. But when his parents uproot him and move the family from California to backwoods Oregon, Solo starts to lose track of the person he was. Everything is upside down, and he finds himself dealing with things way beyond his understanding. He’s the new kid in town, and he’s got a bad reputation. The question is: What will he do next?
It has been a great year of chancing upon new and noteworthy reading. There have been discoveries and finds in adult fiction, young adult, picture books, and last, but not least, children’s fiction. I can now safely add Melissa Hart’s surprisingly weighty and moving middle grade debut Avenging the Owl to that new and noteworthy list.
In first-person narrative, our protagonist, seventh-grader Solo Hahn, is facing down a number of serious, life-altering troubles. Having lived a solidly good life of surfing and spending time with friends in California, Solo is now resentfully living in a trailer with his parents in Oregon. Two major events shake Solo to his very core- one involving his mentally-ill father, one involving the death of his new pet kitten- which cause him to reassess just about everything about his parents, his former life, and what is to become of him. In Oregon, Solo is considered troubled- a bad kid capable of causing serious harm- the opposite of who he had been back in California. Now paying his dues of community service at a raptor centre, under the tutelage of the demanding and strict Minerva and Lucas, Solo comes face-to-face with one of his adversaries: owls.
Avenging the Owl covers a lot of significant ground through Solo’s terrifically voiced and nuanced narrative. In the course of the novel, we get to experience Solo’s coming-of-age during his time at the raptor rehabilitation centre: his redemption and honoring of his community service; his complicated relationship with neighbor Eric; his gradual journey in understanding his anger and loss; as well as his changing relationship with his father (and mother) in the wake of his father’s severe depression and attempted suicide. Powerful and painful in key moments, affirming and hopeful in others, Avenging the Owl is a story in which you cannot help but root for the main character and for a satisfying ending. My one minor quibble with the novel is that the last few chapters read as slightly jumbled- a few too many big moments and character interactions that felt forced or unnecessary- but other than that, solid all-around.
Overall, Avenging the Owl is a very strong read with a compelling multi-layered story; impressive for a children’s fiction debut. Readers who enjoy character-driven, introspective and realistic contemporary titles, those who like the work of authors such as Louis Sachar, Cynthia Kadohata, Gary Paulsen, Wilson Rawls, Karen Harrington, or readers who like a solid contemporary story of redemption (think along the lines of Shelley Pearsall’s The Seventh Most Important Thing) with a bit of adventure might especially appreciate this title.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.