Billy Bird by Emma Neale, Penguin/Random House.
Quirky chapter headings, doodles and a fair amount of bird talk, make this charmer as refreshingly individual as Billy, the child at its core (or should that be “caw”?). Billy is fascinated by birds, and when tragedy strikes he begins to take on the persona of his feathered friends. His parents, Liam and Iris, don’t know how to handle their unusual, highly intelligent son. Nor are they coping with their own grief. As well as all this, they move from Auckland to Dunedin, where Liam is starting up a new business, but Iris is not happy about being closer to earthquake-hit Christchurch. With Billy’s bird-like behaviour increasing in intensity, the family dynamic falters, threatening to break apart. Beautifully written with sensitivity and humour, this is a touching look at how events can derail a family and what can be done to get it back on track.