Book Review: Free Bird by Kevin Cooley

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Free Bird by Kevin Cooley, Netgalley edition, published 26 April 2014, 245p

Sean Murphy is a U.S. Marine in a K-9 bomb-sniffing unit in Iraq and is the handler and best friend to a German shepherd named Free Bird. In a Baghdad firefight inside a hallway raining gunfire, Sean makes the ultimate sacrifice when he falls on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Free Bird, also mortally wounded, climbs over Sean to protect him, unaware of the transformation about to take place.
On his final journey, Sean encounters two paths. He can either follow a light or go with Free Bird. Sean chooses his canine companion with complete trust.
When Sean awakes he finds himself in a kennel inside Free Bird’s body. As Free Bird, Sean returns home and sees how his family is devastated by his death and the aftermath of war. His parents are flirting with alcoholism and an affair, one brother is an outcast in school for flunking kindergarten, while his other brother conceals a secret.
Feeling guilty for the choices he made, Sean/Free Bird guides his family through the mourning process so they can move forward. In two forms, Sean discovers one truth.
He was meant to come home.
– Book Description from Amazon.com

Overall Enjoyment Rating: 8 golden stars

Favourite Quote: “They would always hurt for Sean till their own final moments, but now they realized having him in their lives was worth the pain.”

Free Bird is a wonderful contemporary novel, and I really enjoyed reading it. I picked it to read because it had war themes in it, and I am a sucker for a good war novel. I would recommend this novel for people who aren’t fans of war stories as well as because it explores the dynamics of a family in mourning.

Cooley writes the Murphy family well, and each character is strong and well-drawn. More importantly they were believable. The struggle that the family go through when they receive a dog from the Marine core and not their son, is incredible. Free Bird’s attempts to bring the family together are heartwarming and feel honest. There is a point at which you need to suspend your disbelief and accept the premise of the story, but once I did I was rewarded with an emotional journey.

The author uses a colloquial voice for Sean and Free Bird, which is fitting and appropriate for the characters. One of my biggest pet peeves is when characters speak in ways that are above their level – for example street kids speaking like scholars, but Sean speaks (and thinks) like a young man and soldier, if a little cleaned up.

My biggest gripe concerning Free Bird was that the settings didn’t pop in my head – the characters were so strong but the descriptions of the city were somewhat lacking. They normally constituted of the name of the street/place and then a story of something that happened to Sean in that location. I would have liked some more description (mainly adjectives) of setting and place, but that is my personal preference.

The ending of Free Bird was perfect, and left me with that feeling of satisfaction. I recommend anyone who is interested in family drama or war fiction to read this book!

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