The Art of Flying, by Judy Hoffman (Disney-Hyperion, Oct. 2013, MG) is a magical adventure in which a bird is transformed into a boy, and an ordinary girl becomes his friend.
Before I begin, I want to say that though this isn't a book that worked for me, it got a good review from Kirkus, and I am perfectly prepared to acknowledge that my opinion might not be widely shared, because it's mostly based on personal taste.
Fortuna, an ordinary girl, embarks on a most extraordinary adventure when her mom sends her to help out two old ladies nearby. Turns out the ladies are witches, and one of them has just committed one of the worst magical crimes there is--she's turned three birds into people. When Fortuna arrives at their home, only one is still there, a boy the witches are calling Martin. The witches plan to rope Fortuna in to keep Martin safe, so that he can be re-transformed, but Martin has a mind of his own--he must find his brother, who is also a boy, and he takes off into the woods.
And Fortuna, somewhat to her surprise, finds herself his ally, and possible friend, bringing him home with her. Martin's brother has been befriended as well, by Fortuna's old best friend, Peter.
But in the meantime, there is trouble:
--The third bird transformed was a sadistic owl, and now that he is human, he relishes the thought of having more scope for his nefarious pleasures.
--a third witch wants to get the fist two witches into trouble
--the council of birds hopes to find all three ex-birds, and foil the bad ex-owl
--if Martin and the other two aren't transformed back in time, they will be human forever.
--Fortuna isn't sure she wants Martin to be a bird again. As a boy, he still has the power of flight, and shares it her in a most magical way....
So. There are many lots of bits happening, and the result was that I wasn't reading the book I thought I was going to read. I thought I was going to read about a friendship between boy/bird and girl that was going to be a slow burn, introspective kind of story, but instead the feel of The Art of Flying tilted much more to magical happenings of an exiting sort. It's the sort of book that really should have a more colorful cover with witches and brightness to it, like an Eva Ibbotson middle grade fantasy, or an E.D. Baker book. And fans of those two authors should enjoy it lots.
For me, it wasn't a great fit. The story felt a tad scattered, rather than reading as an organic whole. There were many point of view shifts, sometimes the particular words used to describe the characters' reactions seemed odd to me, and there were details that didn't help the world of the story come alive. The council of birds, or "feathren" as they call themselves, didn't appeal to me--the almost comic way in which they are portrayed diminished the gravitas of Martin's situation, which interested me much more. And I was deeply disappointed by Fortuna...
That being said, I thought the author did a lovely job with her portrayal of Martin as bird learning to be a boy, and I enjoyed that aspect of the book lots.
If you think "magical fun with witches and birds, in which a girl learns to fly" sounds good, give this one a try; if you think "character-driven novel about identity and learning what it means to be human" sounds good, this might not be what you are looking for.