, a young adult novel by Sharon Creech, follows thirteen-year-old Zinnia “Zinny” Taylor as she struggles to cope with grief, guilt, and uncertainty after the sudden and unexpected death of her Aunt Jessie. Zinny's project is the clearing of a twenty-mile-long disused wilderness trail near her home in the Virginia mountains; over the course of the book, she begins to find herself and to come to terms with her emotions as she progresses along this trail of her own making. Chasing Redbird
exists in the same universe as Creech's popular novel Walk Two Moons
, as Zinny sometimes references her friend Sal, who was featured in that novel as Salamanca Hiddle.
Zinny and her family live in rural Virginia near a large stretch of wilderness which Zinny enjoys exploring. Zinny is independent and steadfast, preferring the company of her aunt and uncle to her parents, who she feels are always preoccupied with her other siblings. Her Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate live next door, in a house that is attached to the Taylor family home. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate are much quieter than Zinny's family, and she refers to their house as the “Quiet Zone,” a place she loves to be. Her aunt and uncle also primarily enjoy nature walks, and Zinny frequently walks in the forest with them.
Things change, however, when Aunt Jessie suddenly dies, leaving Uncle Nate lost and alone. What was once a place of solace for Zinny becomes a sad place, as she watches her Uncle Nate depart on long walks in the woods, claiming to be “chasing redbird,” or a spirit that he believes is Jessie looking for him on earth. To make matters worse, Zinny feels guilty, blaming herself for her uncle's grief. Zinny once had a younger cousin Rose, who died of whooping cough when she and Rose were both four years old. Zinny had given Rose the whooping cough that killed her; she believes that somehow she is responsible not only for her young cousin's death years before but also for this new death in the family.
One day while she is walking in the woods alone, Zinny comes upon a disused path that she remembers walking as a child. The path is overgrown, and Zinny makes it her mission to clear the way so she can walk the path without stepping over overgrown trees and brambles. Clearing this path becomes Zinny's mission for the summer, and she sets to it with single-minded determination she doesn't entirely understand. In the woods, she finds peace from her feelings of confusion, guilt, and grief, and in this way, she makes a new “Quiet Zone” for herself in the forest.
As she struggles with her internal feelings, Zinny feels confused about some external feelings as well – particularly, about the romantic advances of Jake Boone, who is sixteen and seems to have an interest in Zinny. Zinny is skeptical of his apparent attraction, however, imagining that he is only using her to get to her older sister, Mary, who is closer to his own age. As the book continues and Zinny keeps hacking away at the undergrowth and branches littering her trail, she develops feelings for Jake, too, but wonders if she should fight her urge to act on them in case he is fooling her.
Over the course of the novel, Zinny learns how to trust herself, and how to cope with grief, pain, guilt, and the messiness of the world. She also learns the art of making a space for herself, both away from her parents’ home and, eventually, even without the guidance of her beloved Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate. The focus of Chasing Redbird
is on the characters and their development, with a primary focus on Zinny’s development as she embraces her independence and her confidence, grappling with the challenges of her family.
Sharon Creech is an award-winning author of books for young adults, many of which are written in verse. Many of her books are set in the South and Midwest, where she spent time as a child. Creech found her passion for writing after teaching secondary school English, which she spent many years teaching in Switzerland. She has written Walk Two Moons
, Love That Dog
, Ruby Holler
, and many other books. She was the first American to win both a Newbury Honor and the British Carnegie Medal for children's fiction. She lives in New Jersey.