giraffedays [at] gmail [dot] com

Follow on Bloglovin

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive new posts by email.

Featured Posts

  • Fancy Words for the Sophisticated Reader Fancy Words for the Sophisticated Reader Want to spice up your reviews with some fancy-sounding words? Here's a list to get you started.
  • Mosaic: Trends in YA Covers Mosaic: Trends in YA Covers
  • Dystopian Fiction: What is it really? Dystopian Fiction: What is it really? With the glut of so-called dystopian fiction on the YA market lately, it’s clear that many publishers are throwing the label around willy-nilly, perhaps because it sounds better than “post-apocalyptic science fiction”, which is what most of these books really are. But what IS a dystopia, really?
  • Top Ten Books Read in 2011 Top Ten Books Read in 2011 My ten favourite books read last year.
  • On Writing "Reviews", or whatever you want to call them On Writing "Reviews", or whatever you want to call them What is it we book bloggers do here? Are we writing reviews or just sharing our thoughts? What IS a book review, anyway?
  • 6 Fantastic Picture Books 6 Fantastic Picture Books
  • Thoughts on 'The Revenant Past' & the Tasmanian Gothic Thoughts on 'The Revenant Past' & the Tasmanian Gothic



For a full list of my reviews, visit my Review Index.


books on my shelves

2223 TBR

See the full list of my books on Goodreads!

Recently Read

  • getting of wisdom getting of wisdom
  • avery avery
  • silent in the grave silent in the grave
  • house of new beginnings house of new beginnings
  • crow country crow country
  • whites whites
  • valentine valentine
  • only ever yours only ever yours
  • mercy street mercy street
  • red queen - aveyard red queen - aveyard
  • Working Stiff Working Stiff
  • blondes blondes
  • animal people animal people
  • firelight firelight
  • ultraviolet ultraviolet
  • strange the dreamer strange the dreamer




Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Rating System

Utter crap

It was okay

Liked it but ...

Really liked it




444,895 hits
(since April 2010)

Favourite Books

The Book Thief
Dark Desires After Dusk
No Rest for the Wicked
The Cage of Nine Banestones
Diary of a Wombat
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
The Ring of Five Dragons
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
The Bone Doll's Twin
Pleasure of a Dark Prince
Rhiannon's Ride Series Books 1 to 3: The Tower of Ravens, The Shining City, The Hearts of Stars
The Red Tree
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
One Foot in the Grave
The Witches
Mister Magnolia

Shannon's favorite books »

prairie ostrichPrairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi
Goose Lane 2014
Trade Paperback with Flaps
196 pages
Historical Fiction

1974, Bittercreek, Alberta. Eight-year-old Egg Murakami is the youngest of three children born to Japanese-Canadian parents who have an ostrich farm in outside this small prairie town. Her older sister, seventeen-year-old Kathy, is a star basketball player and often impatient with Egg, but she is also Egg’s de facto mother figure now that their older brother, Albert, is dead. Their mother remains gentle and kind, but loses herself in poorly-hidden alcohol, while their taciturn father never leaves the barn where the ostrich’s live. He eats there, and sleeps on a camp bed, while their mother sends food over.

Egg doesn’t know why or how Albert died. She understands that it was a tragedy, but she doesn’t really understand why it seems shrouded in shame. It’s September, and a new school year is starting. Kathy is itching to get out of the town, but is torn by her responsibilities to her family, especially Egg. Egg is full of curiosity, bursting with interesting facts about ostriches, and excited about her new Six Million Dollar Man lunch tin. But living in a small country town, and looking the way she does, with onigiri in her lunch tin, Egg is bullied at school, especially by Martin Fisken. She finds peace and a measure of safety in the school library, where Miss Evangeline Granger offers some welcome kindness.

Full of curiosity, wonder and loneliness, Egg struggles to make sense of her small but complicated world. As certain pivotal details come to light, Egg tries to make things right in the only way she can think of.

Prairie Ostrich is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Kobayashi has deftly captured Egg’s unique, eight-year-old voice and brought the girl to life with a mother’s tender touch. There is both a sense of Egg as a heart-breakingly isolated, fragile and lonely child, emotionally neglected by her parents and essentially left to fend for herself, and also one of a resilient, curious, thoughtful being full of wonder for the world. In the year after Albert’s death, Egg’s parents have lost themselves to their sorrow, and the resulting neglect – there and yet not there – is heartbreaking and tragic, and also horrible.

Mama cries, Mama cries but Egg cannot go to her. Egg is frozen, like the Vast Open Plains of the Northern Tundra. First day of school and Albert was not with them. Albert will never be with them. He has been dead for three months, two weeks, and five days – such a long, long time. Now they are all broken apart and Mama’s lost and drifting and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never be able to put them back together again.

Egg runs back to her room, to her bed. She pulls the covers over her head. She does not want to see, she does not want to hear. She feels her heart shrivel up in her chest, a small, hard thing, not like the blue whale at all. The blue whale will not help her; not even the speed of light will bring Albert back. She curls and tucks her knees up to her chin and thinks of the stolen mints from the drawer, the matches from her Papa’s tool box. She cannot be good. And if she is not good, then she is damned.

Egg knows that Mama wants Albert. But Egg is alive and Albert isn’t. [pp.40-1]

Prairie Ostrich deals with the Murakami family’s sorrow in the same subtle, wrenching way it deals with all the other serious issues in the book: homophobia, xenophobia, love, friendship, bullying, fear. Egg has Kathy to look out for her, but Kathy has her own life to lead too, and can’t always be there. Nor does Egg want Kathy to sacrifice her dreams for Egg’s sake. Egg is such a self-contained little soul, full of interesting facts and perceptive insights into the people around her. The reader understands what’s going on better than Egg, yet there is plenty that is obscured from the reader as well, so that you are on a journey of discovery along with her.

In the Greek myths, sometimes the monster was once a mortal who became horrible through a punishment. But that didn’t solve the evil. It just made it huge. Maybe that’s where all the bad comes from, Egg things, a bad so big that it bursts out of nowhere. And then she thinks of Papa, his exile in the ostrich barn. What bad did he do? [p.132]

I was left gutted by this beautiful novel, the prose poetic and so precise. Full of imagery and quiet, tender moments punctuated by tension, the threat of discovery, the fear of being hurt. So subtle, yet so vivid.

Egg looks back at her sister, at Stacey, who waits on the sidelines. The late autumn light blazes behind them, two silhouettes made smaller by the crush of the sky. Kathy holds the ball in her hands, standing in the free throw circle. Egg watches, waits for her sister to take that shot. But the shot never comes. Why, Egg wonders, why is Kathy just standing here? Egg feels a sudden sense of things beyond her grasp. She wants to call out to her sister, to shout some warning, for Kathy seems so lost and alone. But Kathy is not alone. Stacey slowly walks onto the court. It seems to Egg that it takes Stacey a long time to reach her sister. Kathy, head down, stares at the ground, her body small, as if she has folded something precious, tucked it up inside herself and hidden it away. She stands so still. But Stacey just walks out to Kathy and places her hands on Kathy’s face, brings her chin up. Egg sees the ball fall away, bump bump bump bump bump. It rolls unevenly across the court.

The afternoon light, the shift and flare. Egg can’t tell exactly what she has seen. [pp.46-7]

Egg questions, philosophises, observes, tries to make logic out of human nature. She’s in a harsh world, a small and small-minded world, set in a vast, open landscape. It is not hard to see how small these characters are, against such a backdrop. Full of pop culture references that draw upon the things that interest Egg, she tries to make sense of her world in the only way she can, and in the process I saw some things in a new and interesting light.

Superman works alone. He has a cape and everything. His only weakness is kryptonite, from his home planet of Krypton. Superman, exiled, saved from his dying world by his mother and father, who loved him, loved him more than anything, loved him and sacrificed themselves so that he could be saved. Egg puzzles this over. What does it mean when your greatest vulnerability comes from those you love the best? His fortress is called Solitude. The strongest man alive and he is still lonely.

Egg thinks Rumpelstiltskin wanted to be found. It must be lonely sometimes, spinning straw into gold, in the middle of a dark forest. He didn’t want to hide anymore. She thinks he just wanted a family and maybe if someone knew him by his true name, they would love him. It’s like hide-and-seek and you wait and wait and if no one comes, that is sad. If someone comes, your stomach squishes, and then – ta-da! – what a relief! But if you hide and hide and then finally someone sees you as you really are and they don’t love you, that is the worst thing. That is the worst. [p.179]

This short novel is, in a way, a coming-of-age story for the whole Murakami family – what a shame you can’t say the same thing about the townspeople. Recapturing the 70s with wonderful detail, Kobayashi writes with skill and perception, so much so that the story feels faintly autobiographical – I can certainly imagine the author drawing heavily on her own experiences, but I don’t know much about her so I could just be reading into it. Egg certainly feels like one of the most alive characters I’ve read in a long time, and it’s that quality of realism that makes her story punch so hard. It feels so true, you can touch the sharp jagged edges of her life, hear the whisper of air on the prairie, see the ostrich feathers ruffle, and feel the ostracism Egg experiences. It’s hard to get my head around how people could treat a child so dismissively, or harshly, simply based on how she looks. Yet it happens all the time, and with ease. In this, Kobayashi’s novel is a timeless portrait of small-town fear, the confusion of childhood, the pain of discovering your sexuality can be used against you, as a teenager.

My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.

canadian book challenge #7 Casual Tourist 2014


Other Reviews:

“Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi is not a bold book. It is not a quick read. It is not an action-packed book. It is not explicit. For these reasons, and more, this first-time novel is one of the most powerful I’ve ever read.” Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.

1 comment to Review: Prairie Ostrich

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




CommentLuv badge