“The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe” (Margaret Ferguson Books, 183 pages, $17.99)
Tricia Springstubb outlines a compelling argument for “The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe” — an egg. And how could you quibble, given the masterful metaphor and imagery she weaves throughout the novel?
“Inside an egg,” the narrator offers, “it is always peaceful. The baby bird is never lonesome, never scared or confused. ... Tucked deep in the nest, it hears it parent’s heart beat out the message, Fear not. While I have you beneath my wing, nothing will ever hurt you.”
The problem is that 11-year-old homebody Loah Londonderry is forced not only from the egg, but potentially from her nest in this coming-of-age story that will charm readers young and old.
Leah’s mother, a renowned ornithologist, is away on another expedition, this time to the Arctic. Delayed and staying behind from the team in search of the nearly extinct bird that is Loah’s namesake, Dr. Londonderry’s journey leaves her daughter in the care of the stern Miss Rinker and her brother, gentle Theo, both “old, scrawny, and white as napkins.”
As serious situations develop — Theo falls ill and has to be hospitalized, Loah’s new friend is set on running away from home, an intrusive city inspector is threatening condemnation and her mother goes missing in the wild — Loah works to keep her worries inside until she is forced to step outside of the safe haven in which she has cocooned her life.
That stepping out is significant. In this tender story, Loah learns valuable life lessons.
About patience: “A tree never went anywhere. It was always where you expected. It lost its leaves, but never its courage. ... Try to name another living thing more patient and loyal than a tree, and you will fail.”
About loyalty: “Mama said all living creatures depended on one another in ways big and small, ways they knew and ways they never guessed at, and she was right.”
About what really matters: “A bird knows what it needs. Food, shelter, companions. A sturdy nest, a partner in song.”
And, most of all, about the importance of taking the journey — even if you are an 11-year-old girl who prefers knitting and a safe, stable home: “Expeditions come in every size and shape. You can be an explorer without ever leaving home. ... Maybe, maybe if you looked at things a certain way, every life was a kind of expedition.
Does Loah learn her lessons? She does: “Going forward, one step after another. ... Mama had to be Mama, and Loah had to be Loah. Only not exactly the Loah she used to be. Mama would go away, and she would stay home, and that would never be easy, but it would be different now. ... a different kind of wanting. Not the helpless kind. Because Loah wasn’t helpless, not anymore.”
A strong, sensitive story, Springstubb populates “The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe” with unique characters, a flurry of bird facts, a whiff of global warming and the heartwarming tale of a brave, independent heroine.
As the author has said elsewhere: “The world is a wonderful place, but it’s got its share of gritty bits, too.” Springstubb eloquently presents that truism in this important novel.