The Bower Bird
Ann Kelley

Gussie is twelve years old, loves animals and wants to be a photographer when she grows up. The only problem is that she's unlikely to ever grow up. Gussie needs a heart and lung transplant, but the donor list is as long as her arm and she can't wait around that long. Gussie has things to do: finding her ancestors, coping with her parents' divoice, and keeping an eye out for the wildlife in her garden.

'I want to smell honeysuckle in the dark, I want to hear my cat greet me with her special purring mew. I want to smell old books. I want everything, clouds, sunshine, I want to see a whale ' I've never seen a whale. I even want to hear the terrifying sound of the sea in a storm. I want a boy to kiss me one day. I want to run along the beach again. I want to go to America and to Australia. There are so many books I want to read. I want to live.'

"This is one of the most beautiful and evocative novels I have read in a long time. Gussie's honesty and naivity, her simple desire to live her life to the full, is powerful and captivating. She is precocious and engaging... Gussie's narrative voice shows a candour that would spark a smile in any hardened grown-up. I think Gussie's zest for life can teach many people a thing or two about living." AJ (Amazon)
Adéle , from The Henrietta Barnett School London


The Bower Bird had little plot. It is mainly a description book, of how a girl suffering from bad heart and lungs sees the world. She may not make it above fifteen and so the author does not spend much time on any particular aspect of an object. For example, the description of St. Ives is spread throughout the book, but when brought together forms a vivid image of St. Ives.


The best thing in the book was that it was written in the first person. This made it easier to understand the character and her relationship to the world. This made the story clear and easy to understand. It also made the world around her more realistic as if we were looking at it through our own eyes This made the book more personal and gave a better idea of the trauma she was going through awaiting her heart operation.


The worst thing about the book was there were so many characters. It became hard to remember her connection to most of the characters. Most of the characters were unnecessary.  Her conversations with her dad and searching for her family made little impact on the story. This was bad as the amount of characters sometimes made it hard to let the story flow, as I had to keep stopping to work out the characters.


Overall I thought the book was not as good as it could have been. It never kept me on my toes wanting to read on and find out what will happen next. Even if the world around her was clear to the reader, on its own that is not enough to make it a good story.



Arian, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

This is a story of a young girl called Gussie who won’t let a diagnosis of a rare heart condition suppress her lively spirit. Despite this, she is determined to live life to the fullest, experiencing typical adolescent problems such as love and parent troubles. While never complaining, she offers a direct and honest insight about herself and the world around her.

This is Ann Kelley's second book in the series about Gussie. I haven’t read the first, The Burying Beetle, but it didn't really matter. Gussie makes you feel immediately at home in her world. She is very aware of what she wants and how to do these things, the humorous list-making shows this. Throughout the book her hobbies include making photographs, tracking down her father's ancestors and getting closer to Brett, which she does with enviable ambition and drive. I enjoyed this book quite a lot, I liked the informality, and it made me understand how wonderful a character she really is.

Chanell, from Hampstead School London

This is a story about a young girl called Gussie who has had heart problems and has to have lots of operations. After her parents split up Gussie and her mother move to the country while on the waiting list for a heart transplant.


I have really enjoyed reading this book because it shows real-life problems and how horrible they can be. I also liked the fact that the author has based this book on personal experiences. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending because it was a cliffhanger and I wanted to know if the little girl was going to be ok.

Chloe, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

Gussie is twelve years old, and despite having a heart defect and desperately needing both a heart and lung transplant, she is determined to have a normal life with its everyday problems such as falling in love.


Gussie notices things, and her philosophical outlook on life provides an interesting read and brings up thought-provoking issues. However, the book lacks excitement and that engaging quality that keeps you reading, which was disappointing after the build up of the cover and synopsis.


This book raises many interesting topics, making it a good focus for classroom discussion rather than an individual read. 

Christina, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley was my favourite book, joint with Skulduggery Pleasant. Despite the dullness of the plotline, I found this book gripping and very interesting, mainly because of the main character, Gussie.


In sharp contrast to Gwyna, the main character of Here Lies Arthur, Gussie is a very likable, fun person, who makes her quiet life in St Ives seem very interesting, with her witticisms and lively remarks about life.


Gussie has a heart condition, which means that she cannot do physical activities like other children, and she is small and purple. She desperately needs a heart and lung transplant, but she is so far back in the queue that the chances of getting one in time are very little. She is trying to find her father’s family in the small town of St Ives, but her parents are divorced and her mother does not want to have anything to do with the Stevens’. There is not much of a plotline, but Gussie is such an interesting, lovable character that you could listen to her rambling all day and never get bored.


She enjoys life to the full, and is never depressed, despite the fact that she knows she will die in a few years. In fact, she often makes casual remarks making the best of her condition, like when her mother said: “You wait until you get hairy nostrils. See how you like it.” And Gussie thinks: “hopefully I won’t live that long”. I find it amazing how she manages to refer to her condition so lightly without sinking into depression every time it comes up. Instead of dreading the moment she will die, and wondering if anyone will ever donate her the organs she needs to live, she worries about what her mother will do without her, and if she will be lonely when she is gone.


I would recommend this book to children ages 13-16, as it is not one of those books with exciting plot lines that younger readers enjoy; it is a well written, slow paced book for young adults.


Although not much happens in the book, it is still very enjoyable, due to the way it is written (well), and the interesting, likable main character. Altogether, this is a very good book and I would recommend it to anyone who wants some light reading.

Daniel, from University College School London

The Bower Bird follows a short period of time in the life of Gussie, a twelve-year-old heart patient. She is a funny, sweet and well-read girl who, throughout the duration of the book, has to deal with the divorce of her parents, falling in love, moving to the countryside and her enormous interest with wildlife.


One of Gussie's big passions is her garden. As well as forcing her three cats to explore the garden with her and designing her pond, Gussie takes a trip to the Scillies with her favourite friend, Brett. The trip fascinates Gussie and allows her to bond with her secret crush.


Gussie 's other main interest, which is covered widely in the story, is her obsession with her genealogy. She is constantly attempting to trace her 'Stevens' roots in Cornwall and finds herself searching everywhere for some form of connection. Although her father is reluctant at first, she eventually finds what she is looking for!


The wit and intellect Gussie expresses throughout is most probably due to her constant reading. She includes the books she has read and her 'desert island' choices. She finds she enjoys this very much and impresses the adults around her with her intellect.


Gussie's insecurity is truly charming and humbling. Her constant chatter, which accompanies the reader throughout the book, causes the reader to take a shine to Gussie and see her in a complete new light. Eventually you find yourself hoping desperately that Gussie can find a donor and receive her transplant because she is such a nice girl. This was a truly touching and sweet story, 7.5/10

Eniola, from The Henrietta Barnett School London


This book is concentrated around Gussie, a passionate 12 year old girl on the brink of adolescence with the determination to learn as much about the world in which we live in before she dies consequently from a heart condition that she has had to endure all of her life. Gussie longs for life and to live longer than she knows she is able to and waits patiently for the heart and lung transplant that will give her a few extra years to live in this life, and in this world, her life and her world.


Throughout the book she shows a high level of maturity beyond her 12 years of life and the author Ann Kelley manages to portray this through her actions. For instance how Gussie strives to lengthen her vocabulary by learning a new word every day, learning the meaning of that word and then using it for 'practice'. Also the strong parallels she draws between animals, nature and herself like when she says: 'I feel like that young gull: songless and ugly, unable to fly: totally dependent on my parent.' After watching a helpless seagull on the roof of her house useless in his quest to learn how to fly she comments on the way that she is also dependent on her parents in the way that the seagull is of its parents.


The biggest parallel of all noticeable between the title of the book and Gussie is between the Bower Bird and Gussie herself. The book explains how the Bower Bird decorates his nest or its bower with little treasures and this is exactly what she does with her room, her bower in the attic, which she decorates with trinkets and sea-shells and bird feathers in an attempt to attract Brett who is a boy living in the village that goes to school and has a large interest in nature and birds so they become friends.


We see her woes as Gussie desperately tries to get Brett to notice her by changing her hair and trying to be in his presence as much as possible. But one of her biggest problems in her own quest to 'bag Brett' is Siobhan, a pretty and older girl who has had numerous experiences and encounters with men and is also trying to 'bag Brett'. Gussie soon comes to realise that Brett likes her for who she is and her warm nature and bird loving character, and Gussie becomes one with her self and stops trying so hard to be someone that she isn't.


It is amazing to see that despite all of Gussie's problems and issues she maintains her youthful and happy outlook on life exceptionally well and very rarely allows depressing thoughts to enter her mind and these are mainly only due to her ill health. The reader can capture this quality in Gussie again through her [thoughts] like when she said:  'Being alive is a bit like speed-reading.  I have to experience everything, pack it in while there is still time.'


As well as her ever progressing illness Gussie also faces problems regarding the break-up of her family. She lives with her Mum in their new home with her father out of the picture due to his committing adultery with a much younger woman (the lovely Eloise) whom we soon come to find is not with him anymore; and you sense the father's longing to be with younger women, probably as a rebound because of the breakdown of his marriage, and trying to desperately hold onto his youth at the age of 46/47 ... Her relationship with him is reduced to a number of telephone conversations, for despite her life-threatening condition he doesn't make time to visit.  Gussie soon begins to question her part in their break-up and begins to hold herself responsible [for] being too big a burden to her parents because of her illness and she thinks that she caused strains in their relationships; and it's frustrating to listen to the excuses that Gussie makes for him.


Gussie has a great relationship with her mother which is incredibly fortunate due to the lack of relationship with her Dad. Her mother is 51, and is therefore a few years older than Gussie's father which could explain the father seeking younger woman after their ruined marriage. Gussie's eyes missed nothing especially when it came to her mother and her comments on her relationship with her mother's new [boyfriend] Alistair are both charming and comical.  'In a reversal of generations, Gussie would rather her mother wore less makeup and shorter skirts!' I think that this quote does do the description of their relationship justice as Gussie's mother is constantly [molly]coddling her about her condition and this sees Gussie thinking about her mother in a protective way.


At the very end of the book we learn that it is time for Gussie to have her transplant and the book is ended with a slight cliff-hanger which makes the book even more interesting.

Beautifully written and capturing the thoughts and feelings of Gussie in a powerful and emotional way. The book is filled with pages of realism that has done the author - Ann Kelley - justice, and just teaches you to never give up no matter what!

Georgia , from The Henrietta Barnett School London

'The Bower Bird' is a wonderful story following the everyday life of Augusta "Gussie" Stevens, who is twelve years old, who is in desperate need of a heart-and-lung transplant. However, despite the fact that she is probably going to die, she still has a lot of spirit, but is using her remaining days to find out about her ancestry. I found it a very heart-warming tale and will thoroughly enjoy sharing its qualities in this review.


Gussie herself is a brilliant character, and is really beginning to explore herself as a person. She has a curious personality in both senses, as she has an inquisitive personality and is a peculiar person, which gives her traits that mean she can be loved by readers of all ages. This is because she is so sophisticated and wise-beyond-her-years that she can be admired by all, but is still embracing the joys of what remains of her childhood, resulting in her being sympathised with and being very lovable. Unlike the typical main character, Gussie doesn't change very much throughout the book. In fact, nobody changes throughout the book. In most books, this might be a problem, but if Gussie changed at all she would be a lot less charming and delightful to read about, so in this case, it has worked to the author's advantage.


The book is mainly based around how Gussie feels about herself, and also her social skills. The former is more common. Gussie generally thinks of herself as a weedy little girl, very ugly, and someone very undesirable to know. An example is in the quotations "It's hideous, red and lumpy" (referring to her scar from an unsuccessful operation the previous year) and "I just want to be pinker", referring to her looks. These both show how unhappy she is with herself beauty-wise, and a little hint at the lack of self-confidence she has. A reason that Gussie's social skills (which I had mentioned earlier) are not so much charted in the book is that the book is in the first person, along with an excess of characters, meaning that unless the relationships are explored specially, it is difficult to get both halves of the story to fully appreciate the affections. The one relationship that Kelley describes in particular detail is that between Gussie and her mother.


While I am on the subject of the relationship Gussie has with her mother, I will comment on one of the unique writing techniques used for descriptions involving them. I feel I must comment on the most obvious, and interesting, which is Gussie quoting most things her mother says in capitals, for instance, "Oh, that's Far Too Much, darling" or "Mum says it is Of No Importance". This seems to have multiple meanings, all of which seem to fit in with the sentences they are placed in. It generally shows either she says it a lot, or that she takes these as great words of wisdom, almost as though it is a saying or proverb, which reflects great amounts of admiration for her mother.


A strong theme of the book is the many hobbies Gussie pursues, and how little her heart condition seems to muffle her spirit. Indeed, most of the book is about her two main pastimes: investigating ancestry and wildlife. With the ancestry in particular, Gussie is ruthless, sneaking out to a funeral of a man with the same surname as her in an attempt to discover her heritage, She shares a love for wildlife with most of those close to her, and the fact she lives in St Ives, which is close to nature, probably results in those around her sharing the passion, which helps explain why she makes friends easily.


On the whole I found that 'The Bower Bird' was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is well suited for all age groups, excluding primary school. It was beautifully written, and I would recommend it to anyone without a moment’s hesitation.

Joey, from University College School London

Unfortunately, I must open by saying that initially when I read this book, I was bored. The tedium I experienced was, at times, acute, and despite being helped by some redeeming features, for instance a good initial idea - and Gussie’s sometimes amusing turn of phrase - the book did not really ignite my imagination.


The plot centres around Gussie, a twelve-year-old child who must cope with being ill, on top of all other pre-pubescent girl's problems. It is slightly lean, and when broken down to basics, it just revolves around three things – wildlife, Brett, and Gussie’s family. The pages of narrative describing Gussie talk about her trivial days pottering about at home are, on the whole, quite dreary. The constant references to Gussie’s disorder, which, of course, are a large part of her life, are acceptable when they alter the plot, but soon become tiresome when mentioned in passing. Near the end of the book, this becomes so bad that I began to wonder, is this book becoming slightly (dare I say it) gimmicky – that is to say, is Kelley relying on Gussie’s condition so much to give the book flavour, to differentiate it from the pack – that it is taking over much too much of the text? Having said that, I appreciate that it is not every day that you read a book about somebody with pulmonary artesia; and that this could be a device to remind us of how to view Gussie.


Due to the lack of plot, the book is very stretched out, though even only then to just shy of two hundred pages. For example, there is a rather unfortunate paragraph near the middle of the book where Gussie quotes sixteen lines from a wildlife book. Frankly, I do not particularly want to know how to tame a wild robin, and as a result of this, I skipped this rather sizable passage out. Following on from this, the conversational style is at times monotonous, with Gussie waxing lyrical on various topics, as well as having little conversations with herself – ‘…the weather has been barmy – or is it balmy? Yes, it probably is balmy. Barmy means daft.’ This does little for the style of the book, and just ends up disrupting the narrative, and breaking up the flow of the book.


As I am sure many of you are aware, Ann Kelley had a son called Nathan who had the same disease as Gussie. This, it is true, does lend an innate touch of authenticity to the book. However, if you perchance to take a closer look into the personal life of Ann Kelley, the results are simply astonishing. An hour of scouring that inimitable fountain of boundless knowledge that is the internet produced some fascinating information. An astounding number of things in the book are drawn from real life, Kelley’s life, and put into the book. To name but a few: Gussie’s parents’ failing marriage is [perhaps] reminiscent of Kelley’s short-lived marriage to her first husband, and, in turn, Alistair is [perhaps] reminiscent of Kelley’s second husband. The Kelleys briefly lived in Kenya, the cats are in both book and reality (Nathan owned a cat called Mitty), Kelley said herself that she spent a lot of her youth in her local library, Nathan had Gussie’s odd taste in food, Nathan and Gussie both share their interest in animal life, Nathan briefly studied pathobiology at Reading University, until a stroke forced him to stay a month in Hospital. Gussie also shares Kelley’s love of photography; indeed, Kelley has even published a book of photographs. Nathan also shared Gussie’s interest in the opposite sex, and got his first girlfriend in his ‘early teens’ (I quote from Ann Kelley's interview in the Guardian). This ‘inspiration’ even goes as far as physical appearance: Kelley describes Nathan as small – like Gussie; thin – like Gussie; and even with Gussie’s poor eyesight – early on Gussie says ‘I wear my distance specs to see them.’ As if that wasn’t enough, Gussie even lives in the same village as Kelley did with Nathan.


I have no problem with Kelley drawing inspiration from life around her, indeed if you can’t draw inspiration from life around you, then where can you, but why so much? The book seems to be taken straight from real life – it evidently hasn’t taken a great deal of imagination to write. This, crucially, may be where the book falls down – it is too like real life. A work of fiction should not be this life-like; fiction should be tales, stories, not an account of something.


In short, by being too life-like, not fanciful enough, this book has sadly missed a trick. Ann Kelley had great raw material with which to write a book, but sadly, the book was hampered by sticking too closely to said material. It didn’t capture my imagination, because, as I now realise, there was little imagination in it. Ultimately, this results in a bit of a boring book, not one which truly captures one’s imagination.


Having said that, The Bower Bird is still a charming and interesting tome, even if it doesn’t quite fulfil its literary potential.




Full of sciolistic charm, lacking visionary substance.


Kate, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley was an interesting and evocative, beautifully written book with no solid plot. The main character was Gussie. A young, bubbly, eccentric girl, growing up in a single parent family in St Ives, Cornwall, longing to find out about her father’s side of the family. However she also is in desperate need of a heart and lung transplant. This well written novel is simply the goings on of Gussie in a sort of diary form, however the reader is transported into her world and I really imagined what she was going through. Ann Kelley writes so convincingly, I find it strange to think that Gussie is a fictional character! The language Ann Kelley uses is very typical of an 11 year old girl which is part of the reason it is so convincing.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was very well written with a good story and was a very easy read. Sometimes I would read it for a couple of hours and could not wait for the next time I picked it up again! It is humorous and entertaining with lots of interesting mini- stories to hold the reader’s interest. However, there are quite a lot of small characters that are mentioned from time to time so it is hard to remember who they are and it became slightly confusing for me. I also found the ending slightly rushed compared to the laid-back feel of the rest of the book. However I will definitely be recommending this book to others - including my mum!

Meera, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

This book was about a girl called Gussie who needs a heart and lung transplant. She is an extremely odd, warm and friendly girl who is bored of not going to school and so finds her own things to do. She is very interested in wildlife, especially her cats and birds.


This book was very well written as it really did sound like a 11/12 year old girl was talking. There were some parts though where the words the author used sounded too grown up for a child of that age.


There was loads of information about birds in the book, which I found quite boring and it sounded like she was just rambling on and on, as I am not at all interested in birds.


I thought that when the book started it would have a plot about her getting a heart and lung transplant or the problems she has getting it but it was nothing like that. The heart and lung transplants were rarely mentioned and there wasn’t really any plot.


I didn’t think the ending was satisfactory as I wanted to know whether Gussie survived or not and it just ends on a cliffhanger. 


I thought the book was good as it was well written and very descriptive. I liked Gussie’s character, as she was funny, bright and imaginative. The only thing I think would have made the book even better is if it had had a plot.


Oscar, from University College School London

The Bower Bird is the definition of optimism and is truly inspiring. In it Gussie, a twelve-year-old girl who needs a heart and lung transplant, is starting to settle into Cornwall and steadily makes her way through all the things that she needs to do. There are occasional moments when she doesn’t manage but her ability to immediately get back on her feet and try again even harder is inspiring. Everybody would like to have the freedom of mind as well as body that Gussie has and this shows that this is possible.


Gussie realises that even if the transplant takes place the chances are that she could die but she is able to carry on regardless. Although it is hardly uncommon for a book to be in first person, the way in which it is told is a very open account of her mind. She is in fact remarkably astute but at the same time entirely and refreshingly honest. There is nothing in any way fantastical about it; it is simply the life that she leads openly written.


One of the most wonderful, inspirational and fun books that there has ever been.

Priyal, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

Gussie is 12 years old and needs a heart and lung transplant. She had an open heart surgery when she was eleven years old. She doesn’t go to school because if she catches a cold or flu she could get a chest infection and could die. Gussie has a hard life as she is finding it hard to cope with her parents’ divorce. She wishes that they would get back together but they don’t even want to hear each other’s names. Gussie’s Grandma and Grandpop (from her mother’s side) died 1 year after Gussie’s parents broke up. Gussie is desperate to find out her father’s family but is running out of time.


Gussie and her mum have left Peregrine cottage and moved into St Ives. They empty all the old boxes with objects from their Grandma and Grandpop. Gussie owns three cats who keep her company all day; their names are Charlie, Flo and Rambo. She describes their behaviour and gives them human characteristics. Gussie loves wildlife and is a very inquisitive character. She talks about the animals as if they were her friends and tells us readers all about them. Gussie is also interested in photography as her father is a film maker. She is very keen on finding her ancestors and all she knows is that their surname is Stevens. So she attends a funeral of a man who had the surname Stevens. Whether the man was related to her you will only find out towards the end of the book.


She makes friends with an Australian boy named Brett. He is the only friend who comes and visits her at home. Brett also loves animals especially birds as he has his own raven at home...


The Bower Bird is written by Ann Kelley, [who] had a [child] named Nathan who had a rare heart disease called Pulmonary Artesia. That is how she got the idea of writing about Gussie. Unfortunately her son is no longer in this world but he will always be remembered, in the form of Gussie.


My favourite character is Gussie by far. She has such a bubbly personality and is such a bright and sharp girl. She is always very happy and thinks positive. She has a personality which is unforgettable. I love the way she thinks so creatively and how she talks about everything with so much interest.


I really recommend this book as Ann Kelley has used a lot of vivid description and a great plot. She has used personification and made the characters seem real. Each character has their own spectacular personality, especially Gussie. Ann has written this book with so much delicacy it was a pleasure to read such an amazing story. I would rate this book: 5 out of 5.

Rebecca, from Hampstead School London

The reason I enjoyed this book so much, and am thrilled that the author has written a sequel as well, is because this book is brilliant! The main character, Gussie, has such a personality that you just want to fit yourself into her life and know so much more. The amazing power of courage that Gussie has, to accept the fact of her ill health and future life, rings on throughout the book, keeping the momentum going.


The book is about a young girl who has gone through open-heart surgery, but now needs a heart and lung transplant. In her situation the key to never giving up, to keep on going, is her amazing optimism. She moves to St Ives with her mother and gets to grips with her new life and home.


The book also has my one 'must-have' - humour: just that little spark, sometimes a funny anecdote, or the occasional joke, which is always welcome, and lightens the mood. Humour is especially good for inexperienced readers, as it carries the reader along.


 Relating yourself to a book is also especially needed, and with the book you understand the stiuations that related to everyday life and its dramas. For example, Gussie's mother, who when you get to know her is very understanding, but does not seem it from everyone's point of view


Overall, this book would be great for anyone who wants to get 'into' reading. It is well paced, not so slow that you get put off, but not so fast that you can't get to grips with what is happening.


5/5 - I didn't want the book to end! 

Tasnim, from The Henrietta Barnett School London


The Bower Bird is an admirable book about 12 year old Gussie. She's just moved to a new house in Cornwall. There she's intrigued by photography, falls in love, searches for long lost Cornish family, and battles her way out of parent problems. Gussie is growing up fast, but she still hasn't found a heart donor for her transplant. Gussie is running out of time, but there's still so much she has to do...


It is definitely a commendable story as it portrays the everyday thoughts of an intelligent 12 year old, but also admirable in its way of showing this girl's fight to live.


Ann Kelley has absolutely done "a job well done".