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Natalie’s Weekend Read : How to turn into a bird by María José Ferrada ; translated by Elizabeth Bryer

What does it mean to conform to societal expectations? What does it look like to forge your own path? If you dare to be different, will “they” accept you?

These are the questions I was left with after reading HOW TO TURN INTO A BIRD by María José Ferrada ; translated by Elizabeth Bryer. Originally published in Spanish as Hombres del cartel, HOW TO TURN INTO A BIRD is a quick read that will leave you thinking.

In Santiago, Chile, 12-year-old Miguel and his mother live in an apartment next to his uncle Ramón and Paulina. It’s a working-class community, the residents are no strangers to struggle, and cheap construction means that everything can be heard through the walls. When he finds a new job maintaining the lights on a Coca-Cola billboard, Ramón is instantly at home in the solitude he finds 25 feet off the ground. It isn’t long before Ramón makes the unorthodox decision to move into the billboard and call it his home, complete with a kitchen area and running water.

Through conversations with Paulina and visiting Ramón in his perch, Miguel learns that Ramón has always liked to be alone. By removing himself from society, Ramón gains more than a beautifully far-reaching view; he finally finds the solitude he’s craved his entire life.

Where Miguel is fascinated by his uncle’s decision, neighbors in the housing complex, led by Miguel’s mother, are concerned that Ramón has lost his mind. They’re especially worried that Ramón will start a trend, attracting other unwanteds to the area. Miguel seeks to understand why his uncle would want to live so unconventionally and soon starts to question who is acting crazy: Ramón for wanting a place of peace and solitude, or his neighbors for casting judgements without empathy.

When a local boy disappears, tensions erupt and Miguel, observing from the ground, has a front-row seat to a society that, in the name of peace, is not afraid to use violence.

On the surface, HOW TO TURN INTO A BIRD is a simple story. If you look deeper, you’ll find commentary on societal expectations, conformity, breaking from traditional systems, and acceptance. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for my own version of turning into a bird.

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