The Thing with Feathers by McCall Hoyle: A Black Sheep Review

September 13, 2017 Reviews 16 ★★½

The Thing with Feathers by McCall Hoyle: A Black Sheep ReviewThe Thing with Feathers by McCall Hoyle
Published by Blink on September 5th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 304
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing; Deals with issues of death, illness and domestic abuse, but none are graphically shown)
My rating:
2.5 Stars

Emilie Day believes in playing it safe: she’s homeschooled, her best friend is her seizure dog, and she’s probably the only girl on the Outer Banks of North Carolina who can’t swim.

Then Emilie’s mom enrolls her in public school, and Emilie goes from studying at home in her pj’s to halls full of strangers. To make matters worse, Emilie is paired with starting point guard Chatham York for a major research project on Emily Dickinson. She should be ecstatic when Chatham shows interest, but she has a problem. She hasn’t told anyone about her epilepsy.

Emilie lives in fear her recently adjusted meds will fail and she’ll seize at school. Eventually, the worst happens, and she must decide whether to withdraw to safety or follow a dead poet’s advice and “dwell in possibility.”

My Take copy3

I have to start off by saying that I’m definitely the black sheep with this one. Lots of people loved it. And I can see why—we need stories about underrepresented illnesses like epilepsy. Unfortunately, there were a few issues that kept pulling my attention away from the main thread of the story, and those issues chipped away at my enjoyment of the book until I found that I really wasn’t enjoying it much at all anymore.

What Fed My Addiction:

  • The exploration of an illness that we don’t see often. I thought that Hoyle did a fantastic job of helping us to understand what it’s like to live with an illness like epilepsy. From that perspective, this book was great. Emilie’s embarrassment over the idea of being exposed in front of her classmates is very real. She is mortified at the idea of letting people see her at her most vulnerable (and we learn that some of the side effects of a seizure would be very embarrassing in public—something I’d never thought about before). Plus, Emilie’s struggle to accept her illness and not let it rule her life was relatable—even for someone like me, who has very little knowledge of epilepsy.
  • The dog. And the best friend. I loved them both. And Emilie’s mom too, actually.

Because I thought Hoyle explored the topic of epilepsy so well, I actually felt bad throughout the whole book when I wasn’t loving the story. It’s the type of book I want to love—the kind I want to root for. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it in the end.

What Left Me Hungry for More:

  • Clichés abound. The biggest issue I had with the book was that it seemed to follow every stereotypical cliché when it came to the romance and the high school setting. This was made even more ironic by the fact that Emilie repeatedly references the fact that she only knows about high school life from books and movies and that the reality is way different than what she expected. Except it wasn’t. Here are some of the cliches that had me rolling my eyes:
    • Chatham, Emilie’s love interest, is literally the first boy she talks to at the new school (the one who’s supposed to show her around, since every new girl falls in love with the boy who does that).
    • She is assigned to be his partner in a class project, much to her chagrin.
    • And, of course, he’s struggling in the class, but she’s really smart, so she helps him turn his grades around almost immediately.
    • Chatham is perfect in every single way—he volunteers, is fantastic at sports, ignores the affections of the “mean girl” (we’ll get to her in a moment), and adores Emilie almost immediately because she references a movie he likes. (Ferris Bueller, since all really cool—but not necessarily socially cool—modern high schoolers love the same movies that I loved as a kid.)
    • Chatham also has a slightly sympathy-inducing home life (though I suppose I should be happy that he does not fulfill the cliché of being a bad-boy loner because of this).
    • The only issue between Emilie and Chatham is Emilie’s “secret” which she refuses to tell him because… reasons. (I mean, yeah, she has reasons, and I understand being embarrassed about her epilepsy and the extremely awkward situations it puts her in, but it’s not like not telling him will make them less likely to happen, so I lost a bit of patience with her eventually.)
    • The “mean girl” cheerleader seems to hate Emilie for no apparent reason. View Spoiler »
    • There are more, but I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say, these clichés pulled me out of the story so often that I had a hard time connecting to the book.
  • All the issues: The other thing that bugged me throughout the book is that there were all these other issues (besides Emilie’s epilepsy) that seemed sort of jammed into the story. I was fine with Emilie struggling to deal with her father’s death View Spoiler ». But then we also had backstories and subplots involving learning disabilities, autism, distant parents, domestic violence and more. It all started to feel like a bit much.

SO, while this book didn’t end up being for me, it has a lot of great qualities and highlights an illness that doesn’t get much attention. And, like I said, other people seemed to love it. But I couldn’t. I kept getting distracted by the issues I had with the story and didn’t end up connecting to the main character because of it. By the end, I was tempted to skim, and I was forcing myself to keep reading. That automatically puts a book in the 2-star zone for me. But I actually think this book might be perfect for younger YA readers, who will probably be a lot less sensitive to clichés than I am. If you’re at all intrigued, I’d recommend giving the book a try! I give it 2.5/5 Stars.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

About the Author

McCall Hoyle writes honest YA novels about friendship, first love, and girls finding the strength to overcome great challenges. She is a high school English teacher. Her own less-than-perfect teenage experiences and those of the girls she teaches inspire many of the struggles in her books. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family and their odd assortment of pets—a food-obsessed beagle, a grumpy rescue cat, and a three-and-a-half-legged kitten. She has an English degree from Columbia College and a master’s degree from Georgia State University. She lives in a cottage in the woods in North Georgia where she reads and writes every day.


Author Links:
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16 Responses to “The Thing with Feathers by McCall Hoyle: A Black Sheep Review”

  1. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    Oh boy, the cliches abound. They were all so obvious that I probably could have guessed most of them. That’s unfortunate because otherwise the premise of the books sounds truly good and I like that it focuses of an illness rarely discussed in YA. But I know I would get so hung up on the cliches that it would continually take me out of the book. Sorry this one didn’t work for you.

  2. ShootingStarsMag

    I like that it focuses on epilepsy, but yeah, it sounds like it tries to handle TOO many issues in the book – and I’d be annoyed by all the cliches too.


  3. Evelina

    Great review! It sounds like something you could link up to my Whoops post 😀 (I think you’ve already read it)
    I respect you stating your opinion about a hyped book! In fact, my most recent review is also about something everyone respects for diversity reasons and likes just for itself, and I… didn’t xD so I feel you!
    Gotta say, that cover is soooo pretty though!

  4. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Ah boo, I am sorry! It IS hard when you really want to like a book, especially because it does provide something quite valuable, but you just… can’t. The cliches would probably be too much for me too, sadly. And it’s also tough when books try to tackle *too* much stuff- sometimes it’s best just to leave it to a few plot points. But, at least this would be quite nice for a teen who wants to read more about epilepsy! Great review, Nicole!

  5. Jen

    I completely agree that we need more books about underrepresented illnesses like epilepsy! But the cliches would make me struggle with this book too. I laughed when you talked about Ferris Bueller, I’ve quoted that one to a few high schoolers and I get blank stares. I actually quoted Billy Madison last week to one of my son’s swim instructor and again, blank stare. 😶😂 There are some t-shirts on Amazon that has quoted from those movies and a few others I love and I’m sure a lot of people won’t get why I have those words ien my t-shirt but *shrugs*. Wow, got off topic lol.😂 Wonderful review, Nicole! And I’m sorry this book didn’t work out.

  6. Karen Blue

    It sucks when a book is full of cliches. Thanks for sharing your honest opinion of this book. I know there is a lot of pressure when a book is seemingly so well liked by the book community.

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