Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
HarperCollins: 6/28/16
Trade paperback; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062369550

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan is an emotionally gripping very highly recommended novel with three distinct themes. It covers hospice care, PTSD, and a WWII Japanese bomber.

Deborah Birch is an experienced hospice nurse in Portland, Oregon, who knows that it's not about her. She firmly believes that "every patient, no matter how sick or impoverished, gives lasting gifts to the person entrusted with his care." This is why she sweeps her thumb down the back of a wooden hummingbird that a patient carved for her before she sees a new patient. She has been called into assist retired professor Barclay Reed, an expert on the Japanese in WWII. Reed has terminal kidney cancer and no family. He is bitter and tests each new nurse - and he's had many.

Deborah also believes that the measure of a vow does not lie in upholding it when things are easy, but, rather, your commitment is proven in times of difficulty. Her husband Michael is surely testing the strength of her vows. He has returned from his third deployment to Iraq a changed man. He is plagued by nightmares and anxiety. He is distant, cold, angry, and terrified. Deborah is desperate to find a way to help him recover and save their marriage.

After Deborah makes a breakthrough with Professor Reed, she confides in him about the difficulties with her husband. He is sure that he knows the secret to helping Michael. Reed feels that to help Michael, first Deborah needs to understand the code of a warrior. Although Reed left his academic career amid a scandal, he has the book he was working on at his home. He has Deborah read the book aloud to him.

The book is about WWII Japanese pilot Ichiro Soga, a descendant of samurais, who took off from a submarine in a light plane on a mission to bomb the forests in Oregon. Soga later atoned for the bombing. Reed is sure that the story will give Deborah the key to help Michael on the road to recovery. But, she must promise that she will decide if the story is true only after reading it and without consulting any outside sources. Between chapters of the novel is the professor's story of Soga. As the professor worsens (and perhaps Michael too), the story of Soga unfolds.

Kiernan does an excellent job handling the three themes. The information and stories of past cases Deborah shares as a hospice nurse is heartbreaking, but her commitment to her work is clear; her patience is laudable. You can see her courage, care, and temperament demonstrated in her current job helping Professor Reed. Then there is Michael's PTSD and Deborah's commitment to help him. It is certainly another timely topic and a real problem that many families face. The final subject is Soga's story, which is based on a real person, Nabuo Fujita, and real historical information.

The quality of Kiernan's writing is admirable. The novel flows smoothly and held my rapt attention beginning to end. But, most of all, Deborah is a wonderful, fully realized character. I like her.

It's always a pleasure to read a book that gives a nod to the intelligence of the reader and that is the case here. We have three very different topics all making an appearance in this novel, and all three are interesting and worthy of a novel in their own right. The message of absolution and forgiveness is timeless and is integrated into all three storylines, albeit in different ways. The two are a part of the story, while the story of Soga is truly a story within the novel itself. It was an effective way to integrate Soga's journey into the present daily activity.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.  


1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

The three different stories in this book each appeal to different parts of me.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!