Romeo Redux: Flip The Bird by Kym Brunner
"You've got two minutes to buy a new mouse and get back out here or that hawk will be long gone," Dad warned, his bushy eyebrows pinched together.
"Yeah, I got stuff to do before I meet up with Lauren," Lincoln chimed in, flexing his softball-sized muscles. "So make it snappy, butthead!"
I whipped open the door of the pet shop. Pete, the short, balding owner, wasn't at the register. 'Yo, Pete! I need help real quick," I yelled.
"He went into the back room," a female voice behind me said. My jaw dropped. Standing in front of me was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen in my almost fifteen years on earth. "What are you buying?" she asked.
"Oh, just a mouse," I told her.
"That's so sweet!" Her face lit up. "Do you mind if I watch while you pick it out?"
Mercer doesn't mind. He'd been totally focused on the red-tailed hawk he was going to capture and train to qualify as an apprentice falconer, but suddenly he doesn't want to tell this obviously pet-loving girl the mouse she picks out for him is destined to be raptor bait.
Mercer makes the capture with the help of his dad and big brother Lincoln, the bird he jokingly names Flip the Bird that he hopes will make him a full-fledged falconer and give him a chance to please his exacting father. But when he finds that the girl in the pet shop is a new student in his class, he finds his mind divided. Lucy is beautiful, and sweet, and funny, and she seems to prefer him over his well-muscled friend Reed.
The Bard said that the course of true love never did run smooth, as Mercer Buddie discovers when he and his family go over the university where his mom works as a cancer researcher and finds Lucy with her extreme animal welfare group H.A.L.T. picketing his Mom's office for using research animals. Lucy seems glad to see him and Mercer chats with her without mentioning what his parents do for a living.
And when they meet at school, she invites him to eat lunch with her and her friends. Mercer is happy to forgo meat at lunch to sit beside the lovely Lucy, but he knows he can't tell her the whole truth.
And then something happens that makes Mercer see the plot of Romeo and Juliet in a new light.
Happily chowing down on a trio of corn dogs with his family at the local fair, Mercer hears something that makes him freeze in mid-gulp.
"Frieda, isn't that the woman who's the director of that research lab?"
The woman answered,"Oh, Lord, I believe it is, Jerry." Both of them wore red HALT sweatshirts and carried hand-made protest signs. I groaned when I heard Lucy's father say, "How do you live with yourself, lady?"
My mom spun and faced her attacker. "Maybe you should find out what clinical research is all about before you spout any more false accusations!"
That's when Lucy appeared out of nowhere. "Who are you guys talking to?" She broke out in a huge grin. "Hey, Mercer!" She took two steps toward me when her dad grabbed her shoulder. "Let go!" she said."That's Mercer. The boy who came to the Wool-Mart protest with me yesterday, remember?"
It's the Capulets and the Montagues all over again, and Mercer finds himself right in the middle of the animal ethics wars. Both his parents come down hard on him. He's for protecting animals and admires his dad for working hard to rehabilitate injured raptors, but he's fine with zoos, falconry, and corn dogs, too. For the first time in his life, he finds himself at odds with his parents as well as with Lucy's family. Mercer realizes that he had to find his own way through this dilemma.
"Am I not allowed an opinion here?" he asks his father.
But threading the needle between the ethical values of both sides becomes harder when Mercer's parents are away and the HALT protesters break into and trash the Buddie's rehab center, destroying the medications, and freeing all the birds, including sick ones under treatment and Mercer's hawk Flip the Bird. Even his much loved owl Monocle is found dead, hanged by her trailing jesses, and Mercer and his little sister are left with the job of trying to rescue the missing birds.
Kym Bruner's forthcoming new novel, Flip the Bird (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), manages to deal with the problems of teen romance and adult ethical choices honestly while allowing for plenty of humor in the ongoing struggle between nice guy Mercer and his realistically drawn, callow lady-killer brother Lincoln. This is a well realized novel, entertaining and absorbing, giving each issue its due, but one that never insults the reader's intelligence with simple solutions for the sake of a too facile happy ending. Solid reading fare for the thinking young adult reader.