The Tender Birds

(11 customer reviews)


a novel by Carole Giangrande

Print: 978-1-77133-665-9 – $22.95
Accessible ePUB: 978-1-77133-666-6 – $11.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-668-0 – $11.99

318 Pages
September 30, 2019

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Winner, 2020 IPPY Silver Medal – Literary Fiction

Matthew Reilly is a busy academic, a lonely priest haunted by secrets. Young Alison is the shy and devoted keeper of Daisy, a falcon which suffered an accident and can no longer fly. The three of them meet in a Boston parish, but Matt has forgotten a momentary but disturbing meetup with Alison, homeless eight years earlier in Toronto. Close to exhaustion, he’s forced to reflect on what’s become of his life, including the loss of a son that no one knew he’d fathered. Alison and Matt had a fateful encounter during her homeless period, but Matt doesn’t connect that frail teenager with the healthy young woman she’d become. It’s left to Alison to uncover Matt’s past and for Matt to come to terms with it.

“The spirit of brokenness and its redemption lie at the heart of Carole Giangrande’s brilliant, at times shattering, novel. Here, human brutality gives way to an abiding hope in the unseen order that binds all of creation, in a physical world at once sacred and profane. A glorious expression of Giangrande’s deeply spiritual vision, The Tender Birds is a rare and riveting fusion of ‘the poetry of things imagined,’ gorgeously distilled prose, urgency, and exquisite plotting—a literary page-turner of the highest order. I’m in awe of Giangrande’s work and the reassuring wisdom that suffuses it, wisdom our world badly needs right now.”
—Carol Bruneau, author of A Circle on the Surface, A Bird on Every Tree, These Good Hands and several other novels.

“With breathtaking language and gentle insights, this quietly beautiful book gives us good people struggling with the mute loneliness imposed by secrets. Through her characters’ love for that most ancient of birds—the falcon—Giangrande takes us into the mysteries of faith, forgiveness and the search for peace. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, a joy to read, the novel lingers long after its close.”
—Irene Guilford, author of Waiting For Stalin To Die

“Not magical realism, but piercingly real magic; wounds and revelations are Carole Giangrande’s canvas. An award-winning novelist, Giangrande moves her vivid characters deftly through darkness and light, chiaroscuro. I found it hard to close the last page on people and birds who entered my life through this tender, poignant novel.”
—Mary Corkery, author of Simultaneous Windows

The Tender Birds

Carole Giangrande is the award-winning author of ten books, including the novella A Gardener on the Moon (winner of the 2010 Ken Klonsky Award) and the novel All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (2018 Independent Publishers Gold Medal for Literary Fiction). The Tender Birds is her fourth novel. She’s worked as a broadcast journalist for CBC Radio, and her fiction, poetry, articles and reviews have appeared in literary journals and in Canada’s major newspapers. In her spare time, she loves birding with her partner Brian, photographing birds and trying to improve her French.

Fine Porcelain

It was 2011. more than a year had passed since Daisy had come into her life, and eight years had fled since Gavin’s savage attack. Her sorrow was a vanished river running deep underground, its current strong enough to shape her inner world. She missed her lost father who was still a living presence, while her mother had become nothing more than a lifelong struggle with forgiveness. Of those who realized what had happened to her, all of them lived in Toronto—Maggie, her therapist, and the parish priest who had offered her compassion.

It was because of them that she stitched together a garment of faith, sufficient to warm her in the chill of life. In the Cross, she saw an image of the pain that never ended on this broken earth, and in the blessings of life and beauty, she saw rescue. Her father had believed that in the mystery of this earth, all God’s creatures were beloved. She took comfort in that.

Now in her twenties, she was a child with a stone heart; her insides burned with shock, as if she’d been tampered with by a wet finger in a light socket. She sensed that she would never grow beyond this, that she conveyed to others—especially Cam and Father Matt—that there was something wrong with her. She tried to make friends, but beyond Daisy, she had no desire for a life companion. It was spring now, but she felt brittle, like fine porcelain veined with cracks, easy to smash with a careless brush of the hand.

Now, after all of that, they were going to close the church.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Re: St. Bart’s closing
Date: 1 March 2011

Hi Cam,

You may not know this, but St. Bart’s is closing. They lost a lot of parishioners when street people started coming to the church for Mass and the parish ran out of money. I should never have taken Daisy into the park because that’s how the whole thing started. I used to go with her to sit and visit with the homeless people along with some parishioners and then Matt came and celebrated Mass with them. He did it all last summer and into the fall, and when it got cold, they came into the church. Father Matt is devastated.
He does not look well.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Re: St. Bart’s closing
Date: 1 March 2011

Alison, I hadn’t heard about St. Bart’s. You’re not at fault for this. You and Matt were doing something good in the park. I know it’s sad, but the heart can only break in so many pieces. Be gentle with yourself. btw, I am going to be in Boston for a series of weekends in April and May, teaching an ecotheo course at Boston College.
Hope we can touch base.

Not Her Fault

there was a framed photo in Matt’s office that he prized as one of his favourites. It showed him standing beside his mother on his ordination day. He looked young and confident, his gaze alight with hope, a radiant second caught by the camera, a lightness he prayed would not be tarnished by the passing years. He did some counselling out of his office at St. Bart’s, and he put the photo there to remind him of his calling, of the reality of hope for himself and others. Alison had commented on it more than once. “We’re so brave when we’re young,” she’d said. Unable to sleep, Matt found himself reflecting on the photo. He wasn’t sure how to think about the closing of St. Bart’s. He was only there to help out, and then he found himself entangled in Alison’s haunted world, in her wayfarer’s walk with Daisy that had led him into the park. He wondered if it were possible that Alison had dragged him—and the whole parish, in fact—into the net of a waking dream that possessed her. Pretty outrageous speculation, he realized. Yet it was not impossible to consider the power of that woman who, as Father Ron had reported, had drawn a following of so many parishioners, her and her Pied Piper falcon. He’d gone along with it; they all had.

Except that it wasn’t her fault. He and Ron had liked the thought of community involvement and the big-deal buzzwords of “inclusiveness,” and “reaching out to the marginalized,” and Alison (with Daisy attached) had approached her park companions with a natural grace that captivated everyone. And in the end, it was Alison who’d confronted his flagging grip on reality, his thought that he might live among the homeless, that he might minister to them. He would never forget the glint of steel in her voice.

“There’s no good way to live on the street,” she said.

“Not among the poor?”

“Not among insults and very sick men and women. No.”

“I feel at home with them,” said Matt.

“That is not the same as living among them. I will do nothing to support this,” said Alison. Her voice sliced the air, her eyes flashing with a bright, metallic fury. Matt had never seen her defiant, never imagined she had it in her.

“That man with the wine—John—he’s full of contempt for you.”

“Not for me. For the priest who molested him.”

”But you’re not that priest, and there’s no reason to let him poison you,” she said. “No one else will drink that wine.”

Matt was silent, and then he spoke. “I will continue to say Mass in the park,” he said.

Alison was fine with that.

John is full of contempt for you. He couldn’t deny it.

Yet he felt drawn to the men and women on the Common. John, Bill, Pete, Tommy, Flora. He didn’t know why; it was as if he had encountered them in some past life, a thought quite foreign—and not at all agreeable—to his priestly training. It felt as if these people were tapping on his shoulder, trying to tell him he’d neglected something, only he could not for the life of him name what it was; nothing more than one of those frustrating thoughts that circles the drain and slips through the strainer of old age. He would give this painful occlusion of his soul to God, he thought. Their suffering and his, held in the blessing of stale bread and sour wine. Their hope of rebirth, drunk to the dregs.

He belonged there.

Their Son

Matt said mass in the park the following morning, and as he prayed, he looked out over the edge of the crowd and saw a slender, bearded man with ebony skin and a red-haired woman wheeling a baby stroller. Then he remembered the email he’d neglected to answer: “Dear Matt, I have obtained a position teaching theology at Boston College and Natalie and I will be moving back here.” He had received it … when? Six weeks, six months ago? He couldn’t remember.

He did not look or feel well, and he didn’t want them to spot him. He hoped they’d move on, and they continued on their walk.

When Mass was done, and he had drunk the remains of John’s wine, he looked up to see Elias, a tall tree-trunk of a man leaning into the bright sky, and Natalie, red-gold hair undulating in the breeze, her body like a dancer’s, as if he were viewing her reflection in water, and then a child in a stroller. They said hello to him, looked at him with concern in their eyes, joined him on the bench long enough for Natalie to introduce their six-month-old son. His name was James Andre, after her late uncle and his partner—and, according to Nigerian custom, a repertoire of family names were also attached to the common ones, so that he became the engine of his father’s clan moving through time, transporting its cargo of riches to America. Matt did not know what to say. He felt part of that clan, in memory of the man who was his son.

Elias gave him a card with his address and phone number, and they asked what he was up to, and he told them, “A new ministry.” Elias patted his shoulder. “Father, you have chosen the narrow path,” he said. “Do not tire yourself.”

Natalie asked him for his email address, and he wrote it down, relieved that he was composed enough to do her that courtesy. “You must come for supper, just like old times,” said Natalie, the cook, whose uncle had slept with the man who’d turned out to be his rejected son.

Natalie, whose worried face said more than her words.

11 reviews for The Tender Birds

  1. inannaadmin

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by The Miramichi Reader – October 21, 2019

    Toronto author Carole Giangrande’s newest novel, The Tender Birds (Inanna Publications) is a type of sequel to her outstanding 2017 novel All That is Solid Melts Into Air in that it expands on the character of Matthew Reilly, the lover of Valerie who leaves her with child and goes off to the Vietnam War. The bulk of the novel takes place in recent years (post 9/11), but there are several instances when the reader is taken back to incidents in a character’s past. In the present day, Matthew is now a priest serving in a diocese in Boston. The book begins with him missing his flight, which saved his life, for it was one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center.

    “You were blessed to miss that plane” he is told by Alison (more on her in a moment).
    “Sometimes we are blessed,” he said, “at the expense of others.”
    “You came to this parish. A simple place. A retreat.”
    “And now it’s closing.”
    “I’ve given up trying to understand the world,” she continued. “I live with mystery enough.” She glanced at Daisy [the falcon] as she turned her head in Matt’s direction.
    “Yes,” he said. “I can see.”
    “The care of falcons is a spiritual practice. I can show you.”

    Alison and Daisy her Peregrine falcon have a story all their own. Both are broken in a physical and emotional sense. Daisy was crippled from an accident on her first flight. She was brought to an animal shelter at which Alison worked as a veterinary tech by a policeman who saw her crash. Alison’s past growing up in Toronto was impacted by her beloved father (who enjoyed falconry) dying alone in his cabin when she was ten years old. Later, when she is a teen, her mother leaves her alone in Toronto (she provides rent money) after moving to Montreal with her boyfriend. (There’s a lot more to Alison’s story.)

    Eventually, Alison ends up in Boston, returning to the birthplace of her father, and it is here she is employed as a veterinary tech. She and Daisy attend St. Bart’s where Matt is serving as a priest. Daisy is allowed to attend Mass, much to the consternation of other members of the congregation. She and Alison sit near the back.

    The outstanding thing about The Tender Birds is that Ms. Giangrande has created not only a protagonist of Daisy but has made one of God’s creatures a receptacle of sorts for the sorrows of many, not just for Alison, but for all whom Daisy comes into contact with. “I believe that Daisy is capable of love,” Alison tells Matt.

    Why a Peregrine falcon? Alison appears quite assured, or at least confident in her own spirituality, certainly more so than Father Matt. I believe that by the time we meet Alison, the rescue and rehabilitation of Daisy have fulfilled its purpose as far as Alison is concerned. Now Daisy is her companion, but also a constant symbol of God’s love and strength. Furthermore, Alison can trust Daisy. (Many humans have broken her trust in the past) So, Daisy is not a crutch or an idol, but a representation. It is in this sense that Alison uses Daisy to comfort the homeless and others she comes in contact with. How many of us get to see such a magnificent creature up close? Who would not be in awe? I know I would be. Matt watches fascinated as Alison and Daisy move easily amongst the street people of Boston Commons.

    Drifting over to a park bench, she sat down beside an unshaven, derelict man, a bundle buggy beside him and a cup for the spare change of passersby. God knows what he’s spending it on, Matt thought. Booze and drugs. And then he felt ashamed of his tendency to harsh judgment, because Alison reached down and put money in that cup. Alison needs protection from her innocence, he thought. She had a conversation with the man, showing off Daisy who lifted her wings, and he thought that one or both of them might be angelic, beloved of God, unsuited to live in this terrible world.

    What fascinates me most about Ms. Giangrande’s writing is her ability to let the story unfold at a reasonable pace. Matt’s and Alison’s stories are told neither in a brisk way nor so slow that the reader (at least this one) gets bored or distracted. She is also proficient at creating memorable word images.

    Matt watched Alison as she slipped through the tree like a needle threading an imagined world through the fabric of the real.

    Something wrong, something unsteady in his look, like the flicker and dimming of electric lights before the system crashes.

    Nothing more than one of those frustrating thoughts that circles the drain and slips through the strainer of old age.

    In summary, I want to mention that I haven’t told a fraction of the stories this novel contains. To mention them all would be to write too much, and possibly give away too much. It’s better to say less about a book that is so much more. So many delicate thoughts and emotions are conveyed throughout the entire book. Amazing. It’s been three years since All That Is Solid and the wait was worth it. Needless to say, I am long listing The Tender Birds for 2020 for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Fiction. 5 stars!

  2. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    Over Coffee Conversations – November 10, 2019


    This is a hauntingly beautiful story.

    At first, the title, “Tenderbirds” struck my curiosity of what this book was all about. It was not just about birds but it was about the great birds of prey and how they became sources of comfort, strength and support for the main characters in the story, Fr. Matt and Alison. With the unfolding of the story also came the revelations of their pasts from Toronto to Boston. The author, Carole Giangrande has certainly succeeded in tugging at the emotions of her readers. Fr.. Matt and Allison’s experiences have moved me so much. Although different, their similarities in having loved, lost and confused left them both feeling a sense of guilt and loneliness…

    …A story about faith, forgiveness and restoration, I would recommend it to anyone in search of life’s beauty and meaning. It is a good source for reflection.

  3. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    Working Mommy Journal – November 12, 2019

    The Tender Birds is a powerful book that left me in tears and touched my heart.

    The author starts the book off with an individual rushing to make a flight but unfortunately missing his flight. As we turn the page, we learn that the flight he missed was the flight that crashed into the World Trade Center Towers. The story continues to unfold in a beautiful, mysterious way as we discover how the lives of our two main characters, Alison and Matt are interwoven. We learn how their decisions have impacted another individuals life and how far reaching this was.

    It is a beautiful story about understanding, forgiveness, compassion and faith. Our actions (or lack of action) can have an impact on someone’s life that we may never understand, see nor appreciate. We don’t truly even appreciate the impact of Matt’s decisions until we hear Alison’s story in the second half of the book. While Matt’s story is one of an individual seeking forgiveness, of a person who doesn’t quite seem able to connect with others or even know himself or the consequences of his actions – Alison’s story broke my heart. The events that she had to deal with in her life, could have broken her but instead it was her Father’s memory, her faith and her belief in goodness that slowly helps her heal. She is just a truly good person, who sees the beauty and light in everyone and everything (especially in birds). She makes mistakes but she is also honest about them and seeks to correct and forgive. She could have never forgiven nor let go of her past but instead she tries to move forward, slowly making friends, shows compassion to others and teaches those around her to show compassion to those less fortunate. She doesn’t do it in a flashy way, she is always humble and almost doesn’t even realize the lessons she is teaching others.

    While the ending of the book is sad, it is also full of hope, understanding and forgiveness. Alison has learned and grown so much and you can’t help but feel proud of her. I was sad when this book ended because I would have loved to have read her next chapter. This is an excellent novel that does not disappoint.

  4. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    Literary Fits – November 13, 2019


    …Of the two main characters, Matthew and Alison, I actually found Alison’s story to be the more compelling. Although my teenage years weren’t as traumatic as hers, I could still strongly identify with some of her experiences and felt Giangrande’s wrote of Alison’s descent into homelessness in a knowledgeable and authentic way. I was reminded of Dennis Cardiff’s powerful Toronto memoir, Gotta Find A Home, particularly during the Ravine scenes and when a group of homeless people gather in a local park. I was impressed how Giangrande put the issue of homelessness into such a central place in The Tender Birds, but without making me as a reader feel hectored on the subject. The most memorable moment for me was an almost throwaway remark about how Father Matt’s church, St Bart’s, rapidly lost parishioners when homeless people came into the church for Mass. Apparently their Christian charity didn’t extend to worshipping in the same building and, although they live near enough, the lack of adequate shelter excluded homeless people from also being considered ‘parishioners’. I’ve been pondering this paradox for quite some time!

    I wasn’t sure how I felt about Matthew. In several ways I found him quite an unsympathetic character. He is quick to judge others and often holds them to higher standards than he himself achieves. He also has problematic (for me) attitudes towards women and on homosexuality which he seems to consciously hide, but which escape from time to time. His complexity is wonderfully portrayed!…

    …I am glad to have discovered Carole Giangrande’s writing and am also intrigued by the way reading this novel made me feel. I don’t know if it was the pacing or something in the writing style, but on finishing The Tender Birds I realised I felt unexpectedly relaxed and almost serene. Perhaps this whole novel is a prayer?

  5. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    Locks, Hooks and Books – November 18, 2019

    Carole Giangrande has written a unique read with The Tender Birds. It is my first introduction to her work. It tells the story of a priest, Matthew, and a falcon keeper, Alison. The two meet in Boston at a parish. After many years that passed, He is still haunted by the events of September 11, 2001 and tells her about it. He was supposed to be on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. His son was not so lucky. He was among many that lost their life that day. After suffering a heart attack, he begins to see life in a different light. He gets flashback of previously meeting Alison several years earlier in Toronto. Alison, too, has her own heartache she needs to tell.

    The writing style of The Tender Birds is quite a bit different than I am used to. It took me a few pages to get used to. It was refreshing to read something different. Alison was my favorite of the two main characters. She has been through a lot in her young life. I felt a connection to her and could understand some of the trauma she had experienced. There were some scenes that really tugged at my heart. I wanted to keep reading to find out her complete story and how it would all end for both her and Matthew.

    I am giving The Tender Birds four stars. I believe many readers would enjoy this book. It is definitely worth a read.

  6. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    A Mama’s Corner of the World – November 20, 2019


    The Tender Birds is a must read. Once I settled into the author’s writing style and the elements of the story and the roles and symbolism of the birds took shape in my mind, I couldn’t put novel down. The author blends a lot into the novel as her characters reveal pieces of themselves and the Faith-based storyline moves them toward healing and forgiveness. For readers who enjoy realistic fiction with life lessons and Christian messages of hope and healing (without preaching and heavy Scripture)–this novel will hold interest through to the end.

    The author creates strong characters and a well paced storyline. While, I didn’t love Father Matthew’s character–perhaps he was actually too realistic in his thinking and judgements for a “fictional” priest–but I didnt like him a great deal. Alison; however, brought peace and strength to every one of her pages. The storyline had almost a memoir flow as the reader was taken back and forth through the character’s lives as the story grew. Even with that back and forth activity, there was never a point when the story bogged down or became confusing or repetitive…

    … I enjoyed the novel and look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

  7. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    Svetlana’s Reads and Views – November 23, 2019

    Beautiful, tender and graceful, THE TENDER BIRDS BY CAROLE GIANGRANDE strikes me as a novel of startling juxtapositions: that of healing and the vivid details of caring for raptor birds. Yet I enjoyed it a lot, seeing the startling contrasts, getting to know the characters and plumb through the depths of their emotions. Honestly, this is not a tale to rush through, and instead it becomes a tale to look deeply into the hidden depths, teasing out the meaning hidden behind the words…

  8. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    To Thine Own Shelf – November 27, 2019

    At first glance, I was curious as to what tender birds really means. Then I read the book and while reading I realized this book is mainly about love, loss, and finding strength in comfort in the tender birds. The book tugs at the heartstrings and helps the reader to enjoy the narrative of Fr. Matt and Alison that we all can in some way relate to. This book was very imaginative and interesting. It was full of metaphors and analogies that simply made sense in light of our own lives. I enjoyed reading this book and finding new ways of thinking and understanding my own struggles. If you enjoy meaningful and creative reads, this book is for you!

  9. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Hannah Brown for The Minerva Reader – December 15, 2019

    Carole Giangrande seems to have been profoundly affected by the events of September 11. This book, The Tender Birds is a third novel of hers in which that event affects the movement of the story. It is by turn inwardly focused and outwardly observant. It happens in old churches and deep ravines, among people reflecting upon their faith and following the dramatic presence of birds of prey, and despite its quiet tone, is dramatic in its revelations. The dialogue is true, as you would expect from a former broadcaster, and the passages of description are so beautiful, you want to re-read them and follow their flight again. A very satisfying read!

  10. Renée Knapp

    The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Lisa de Nikolits for The Minerva Reader – January 2, 2020

    Carole Giangrande’s writing is, as always, a sheer delight to read. And, from the moment I started it, I felt as if The Tender Birds was written with me in mind – my worldly dilemmas, my contemplations of this confusing and randomly unspiritual era into which we have been cast.

    I was brought up Catholic and have been dismayed by the scandals of the Church, leading one to wonder, what, if any of the spirituality, was real?

    In the flawed and very real Father Matt, I felt as if my questions were being addressed to the point where I wondered if Carole had seen inside my brain but how ridiculously egotistical! These are the questions of today’s world not just mine.

    The Tender Birds is a beautiful, faith-affirming life affirming book that brings us back to the healing power of nature and the quiet magic of being human in a universe of God’s wonders despite our efforts to destroy it.

  11. Jocelyn Cullity / BFA in Creative Writing, Truman State University / The Envy of Paradise (novel, 2019)

    The Tender Birds
    A novel by Carole Giangrande
    Inanna Publications, Toronto, 2019

    When you read Carole Giangrande’s work, you know immediately that you are in the company of a really smart writer. Not all excellent writers are equally smart people but Giangrande is certainly one of these. I felt it when I read her second most recent book, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (winner of the Independent Publishers Gold Medal for Literary Fiction 2018), and I felt it again now, finishing her most recent novel, The Tender Birds, published in 2019 by Inanna Publications in Toronto.

    Carole Giangrande, a dual American-Canadian and past CBC Radio journalist, has written ten books including four novels, a collection of short stories, three novellas, and a children’s book to be published in 2020.

    The Tender Birds is an intimate portrayal of the grit of life in the current moment. About a young woman named Alison who has spent time on the streets of Toronto, and who takes care of a falcon named Daisy, the story connects Alison, who has lived through what too many women have lived through — abuse and assault — to a lonely priest, Matt Reilly, who has his own tragic past.

    Set in Toronto and Boston, Giangrande builds her characters’ stories deftly, revealing the deep and ragged memories of their pasts in a breathtaking climax.

    A true page turner, illuminated by beauty as well as dirty realism, the story is especially evocative in these days of the Me Too movement, and the many revelations in recent years of the sinister issues attached to the Catholic Church. As someone who considers herself an ex-Catholic, I found myself in awe of the head-on confrontations with the Church that Giangrande evokes through her characters. The book is timely and sensitive. It raises questions. Written tenderly, without anger, Giangrande nonetheless won’t let us look away. She compels us to contemplate and understand the details of how suffering happens. This is a serious and illiminating story, timely and useful for us all. And here is yet another terrific novel by Carole Giangrande, an author who knows how to turn over the haunting, terrifying actions of our world in her able hands, knows how to lift them up, and to let them take flight in art.

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