kimberley reviews eep! by joke van leeuwen
eep! is the story of a mysterious bird-girl called beedy (because she can’t say ‘birdy’) who touches on but ultimately doesn’t stay in the lives of four other characters. it was originally written in dutch and this english edition has been published by the fabulous gecko press. though it’s classified as a book for 9–12 year olds, it’s really a book for any age – hey, i read it and loved it and i’m a grown-up (or at least that’s what they tell me).
beedy’s character is a slightly eerie one because you can never really tell whether she’s more bird or girl –she looks and speaks, for the most part, like a human but she often behaves more like a bird, flitting in and out of people’s lives with no attachment to emotion or responsibility.
what resonated with me about beedy was the way that she became a vessel for the hopes, dreams, and longings of the other characters in the book. the childless couple, warren and tina, try to make a daughter out of her; the lonely little girl, lottie, wants her to be a friend; and the rescuer just wants to, well, rescue her. each of these characters form a relationship with beedy that is contingent on getting something out of her, a contingency that is contrary to her bird-like nature. though the other characters see beedy as a driving force in the progress of their lives, a force which will in some way make their lives better or complete, she is really just the point in the story around which they revolve. at the end of the day, it is each character on their own, rather than any action on beedy’s behalf, that resolves the emptiness or lack they feel.
all this seemed rather true to me of life. how often do we try to invest those we love with qualities that we feel are missing from our own lives? how often do we expect other people to make things better for us by being the person we want them to be rather than the person they really are? we don’t do these things because we are selfish: we do them because, just like the characters in eep!, we can only see the world through our own eyes.
one of the things that really reinforces this story’s whimsical nature is the inclusion of charming and simple line illustrations. eep! is a story that is told with pictures as much as it is with words. the first page reads: ‘take three lines. curve them a little. join them together. and here is the landscape in which this story begins.’ the illustrations are by turns charming, quirky, and even informative. there’s one showing you how to make vowel sounds with your mouth and – my favourite – one showing the many ways in which children can be useful to their parents as crumb-collectors or christmas trees.
this is a gentle story, one that slowly creeps up on you and flits in and out of sight much like a little sparrow. but it’s quite unlike anything i’ve read before and though it’s gentle, it’s tenacious. i can’t quite get beedy out of my head and find myself thinking of her in the most unexpected situations. i do believe that, as well as giving me much food for thought, beedy has taught me something about the way i treat those i love in my life.
let’s do discuss books! what books have you read that have been quite unlike anything else? what are the books that you feel you’ve learnt the most from and what did you learn?