#IMWAYR: Bite-Sized Reviews of The Secret Language of Birds & Not Quite a Ghost

Posted May 6, 2024 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Reviews / 23 Comments

I’ve joined up with the IT’S MONDAY! WHAT ARE YOU READING? kid-lit edition, hosted by Unleashing Readers. This will help me get at least one or two reviews posted each week – I have lots of books I’ve loved lately to share with you!

So, today I’m sharing reviews of a middle-grade contemporary and a middle-grade horror novel. Hope these bite-sized reviews are enough to feed your fiction addiction!

#IMWAYR: Bite-Sized Reviews of The Secret Language of Birds & Not Quite a GhostThe Secret Language of Birds by Lynne Kelly
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on April 9, 2024
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Pages: 240
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Leo Nickolls
My rating:
4.5 Stars

From the award-winning author of Song for a Whale comes a poignant and heartwarming tale about a girl who discovers a pair of endangered birds about to lay eggs in the marshes of her summer camp...and the secret plan she hatches to help them.

 Nina is used to feeling like the odd one out, both at school and in her large family. But while trying to fit in at summer camp, she discovers something even more two majestic birds have built a nest in the marsh behind an abandoned infirmary. They appear to be whooping cranes, but that’s impossible—Nina is an amateur bird-watcher, and all her resources tell her that those rare birds haven’t nested in Texas for over a hundred years.

When Nina reports the sighting to wildlife officials, more questions arise. Experts track all the endangered birds, but they can’t identify the female bird that Nina found. Who is she, and where did she come from?

With the help of some fellow campers, Nina sets out to discover who the mystery bird really is. As she gets closer to the truth, will she find a flock of her own?

This instant classic from award-winning author Lynne Kelly captures the coming-of-age moment of learning to spread your wings in a way you'll never forget.


I absolutely loved Song for a Whale, so I was excited to read Lynne Kelly’s next book. I didn’t think the stories would be connected, but it turns out that this one is a companion novel that focuses on a side character from Song (and the main character from Song is involved in the book a little bit later as well!). This story centers on Nina, a girl who relates to the birds and the outdoors more than she does to other kids. Her parents are a little overbearing and overprotective, so when her older sister suggests she go off to the summer camp their “strange” aunt owns, Nina figures it’s worth a try. She isn’t sure how long she’ll stay – she feels a bit out of place at the camp, not quite a camper, not quite a staff member… until she discovers a pair of rare, lost whooping cranes in the marsh near the camp. Suddenly, she has purpose – and a whole group of friends who call themselves the Oddballs – to keep her there.

This book is perfect for middle grade readers because it highlights those awkward years where you’re just never sure where you fit in. Nina’s passion for birds is contagious, and I actually think it will make readers want to go out and experience nature a bit for themselves! And there’s a certain sort of instant friendship that’s born at summer camps, which is depicted perfectly here (my daughter was always a bit of a Nina, and she bonded with kids at camp in a way she sometimes struggled to at home). The story does dive into sad territory a little bit, but quickly picks itself back up and shows the hopeful and bright side of the situation, something that I very much appreciated. I was definitely not disappointed in this as a follow-up to Song, but kids don’t need to read the first book to enjoy this one!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

#IMWAYR: Bite-Sized Reviews of The Secret Language of Birds & Not Quite a GhostNot Quite a Ghost by Anne Ursu
Published by Walden Pond Press on January 16, 2024
Genres: Contemporary, Horror, Middle Grade
Pages: 288
Source: Edelweiss
Cover Artist: James Firnhaber
My rating:
5 Stars

From the award-winning author of The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy comes an unforgettable and deeply personal story of the ghosts that surround us—and the ones we carry inside.

The house seemed to sit apart from the others on Katydid Street, silent and alone, like it didn’t fit among them. For Violet Hart—whose family is about to move into the house on Katydid Street—very little felt like it fit anymore. Like their old home, suddenly too small since her mother remarried and the new baby arrived. Or Violet’s group of friends, which, since they started middle school, isn’t enough for Violet’s best friend, Paige. Everything seemed to be changing at once. But sometimes, Violet tells herself, change is okay. That is, until Violet sees her new room. The attic bedroom in their new house is shadowy, creaky, and wrapped in old yellow wallpaper covered with a faded tangle of twisting vines and sickly flowers.

And then, after moving in, Violet falls ill—and does not get better. As days turn into weeks without any improvement, her family growing more confused and her friends wondering if she’s really sick at all, she finds herself spending more time alone in the room with the yellow wallpaper, the shadows moving in the corners, wrapping themselves around her at night. And soon, Violet starts to suspect that she might not be alone in the room at all.


I wasn’t sure what genre to put this book in – it reads like a contemporary with hints of spookiness but then gets decidedly creepier toward the end. When Violet moves into a new house, she isn’t particularly happy about the change (actually, she isn’t happy about any change, and this is a big one), but she tries to make the best of it. The new house is bigger so she doesn’t have to share a room with her older sister, which should be a good thing, but it ends up making her feel lonely, especially when she feels like she’s been abandoned in the creepy upstairs room. And as her friend groups at school start changing, Violet has something else to adapt to as well. That’s all made worse when she starts gets sick with a mysterious illness no one seems to understand. In fact, everyone – her friends, school staff, and even her doctors – start to doubt that she’s really sick at all. And Violet spends more in more time in her room… with something that lurks within her wallpaper.

I was a bit nervous for a while that Ursu was going to have Violet’s invisible illness be caused by the spirit in the wallpaper and then supernaturally get better, negating all of her experiences. But I should have realized that this is not Ursu’s style. Instead, Ursu used the creepiness of the entity in the wallpaper to intensify Violet’s mental anguish throughout her illness and to make her doubt herself even more. It also gave her a foe she could conquer when conquering her physical illness completely might not be possible. The book was a sadly realistic depiction of the ways that people treat someone with an invisible illness – the way that people doubted her and wondered if she might be causing her own pain. For that alone, it’s an important read. But kids will appreciate the creepiness of the story – as long as they don’t have any strange wallpaper in their room to keep them up at night!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

What I’m currently reading:

Right now I’m listening to Greenwild by Pari Thompson, which is this month’s Barnes & Noble middle grade monthly pick and also the last book I need to read for the B&N Children’s & YA Book Awards!

That’s it for now! Have you read either of these? What did you think? I wanna know!


23 responses to “#IMWAYR: Bite-Sized Reviews of The Secret Language of Birds & Not Quite a Ghost

  1. I think the closest I’ve come to an MG horror is half of the Coraline movie (is that MG?). Not Quite a Ghost sounds so interesting bc I’m curious about how the author’s going to handle such a deep, meaningful concept and still make it a read geared towards a younger audience. Awesome reviews, Nicole! So glad you enjoyed both of these. 🙂

  2. I especially like the sound of The Secret Language of Birds, although maybe I’ll start with Song for a Whale instead as that takes place first and you mentioned that one is great too. I always like summer camp settings in books.

    I am not a fan of horror, so Not Quite a Ghost isn’t for me, but I do like how it deals with an invisible illness and how that isn’t caused by the creepy wallpaper.

  3. Both are on my list, already, Nicole, but I really enjoyed your reviews! You made me want to start both now! Have a great reading week!

  4. Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf

    These are such thoughtful reviews, Nicole, and I appreciate it so much—you give us a really good feel for the themes of these books, and what it felt like to read them!! Not Quite a Ghost sounds so powerful—I don’t think I’ve seen many if any books tackle invisible illnesses, and how cool that Anne Ursu uses the supernatural element to deepen the realistic themes, rather than taking away from them.

    And The Secret Language of Birds sounds great as well—I’ve never been to a summer camp, but I can see how being in a new situation together, without all the existing social pressures and hierarchies of one’s own school, would make it much easier to connect.

    Thank you so much for the wonderful reviews, and enjoy your week!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing these books today. I’ve already put The Secret Language of Birds on hold. I already had Not Quite a Ghost on my list, but I don’t do creepy stories well, so I haven’t decided if I will read it or not.

  6. Wow, these both sound like books I would have been drawn to as a child – books that respect their young readers, and don’t talk down to them. Kids experience sad stuff in their lives, they experience tough things, or see their friends and loved ones experience tough things. Rather than pretending this isn’t the case, skilful authors, especially ones like Anne Ursu, give kids opportunities to explore these feelings and thoughts and experiences. It takes a skilled hand to write for this age group, and I have so much respect for these authors!

  7. I am definitely adding the Lynne Kelly novel to my TBR–and Song for a Whale as well, since I also somehow missed that one and both sound amazing. Creepy isn’t for me either, but middle-grade creepy might be ok, so I’ll keep an eye out for the Anne Ursu. She’s an author I’ve been meaning to read more of anyway.

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