The Merit Birds by Kelley Powell
Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He’s angry about his absent dad, he’s angry about being angry, and he’s angry that he has had to give up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Vientiane, Laos. However, Cam’s anger begins to melt under the Southeast Asian sun as he finds friendship with his neighbour, Somchai, and gradually falls in love with Nok, who teaches him about building merit, or karma, by doing good deeds, such as purchasing caged “merit birds.”
Tragedy strikes and Cam finds himself falsely accused of a crime. His freedom depends on a person he’s never met. A person who knows that the only way to restore his merit is to confess. The Merit Birds blends action, suspense, and humour in a far-off land where things seem so different, yet deep down are so much the same.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s set in Laos with a Canadian main character who is learning to cope with living in such a vastly different culture. Cam is not very happy about the move or his life, and is not the most likeable character. The story is told from alternating points of view focusing on Cam. We also get to see things from the point of view of Nok and her brother Seng.
What I liked:
It was beautifully written. I really enjoyed the descriptions and language used. It did a great job of transporting me into the story and letting me picture what was happening.
I loved Cam’s friend Somchai. He was the kind of friend we all wish we could have, caring and giving and not letting Cam’s surliness keep him from friendship.
I enjoyed seeing more of the culture and getting a bit of understanding of how it works. It’s such a different way of life in Laos compared to North America and having books with diverse settings and diverse cultures are fantastic.
What I didn’t like:
Cam. I really wasn’t a fan of him. He had a lot of anger, towards everyone. And he was very selfish and wrapped up in himself. And I’m okay with not liking Cam. It’s actually a selling point of the book to me that I don’t really care for or relate to the main character but I still enjoyed the story and hearing his journey. It had all of the aspects of a typical coming of age story.
I felt like the ending was too abrupt. And, maybe that was intentional. This isn’t your typical young adult novel love story where the characters end up together at the end. It’s much more in line with the feel of a book like Catcher in the Rye. There was a lot of lead up in the front part of the book, and while a lot of time passes in the back end, it’s passive time passage and I often don’t connect with that as strongly as when we are with the characters for the time. Just from a balance point of view the amount of time given to the ending didn’t fit (for me) with the time given to the lead up.
Overall, it was a great read. It’s very different from the post-apocalyptic and fantasy YA that I’ve been reading lately and was a great change of pace. I really loved that it was set in South East Asia and brought in the culture. Definitely one that I recommend 5/5.