Review: Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

Rare Bird

Following my miscarriage last year, I searched high and low for books and in particular, for memoirs that would help me find my way through my grief. Though I stumbled upon a few gems like A Force of Will and An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, the kind of book I was looking for was largely absent.

Rare Bird is that book.

To be clear, Rare Bird is not a book about miscarriage. It's a book about the unexpected loss of author Anna Whiston-Donaldson's 12 year-old son Jack. In it, Anna chronicles her journey through grief with honesty and beauty. She also addresses the guilt I believe any parent who's suffered such a loss must feel. In her words, “No one has ever told me that grief feels a lot like shame.”

More than a book about grief, however, Rare Bird is a story about faith and hope. In it, Anna authentically wrestles with the profound impact death has on her faith and on her relationship with her church. “What we're going through is almost too real and too raw to bring up at church. But if you can't bring up matters of life and death and Gods' Spirit here, where can you? Maybe it's because we are accustomed to dealing with issues in tidy chunks. We grapple, but we do it during a 20-minute sermon, a 12-week class, a topic scheduled six to eight months in advance. There is nothing tidy about a child dying.” At the same time, however, Anna also shares her surprising observations about God, including how, “in times of heartbreak, God is closer than our own skin.”

Anna's story is heart-wrenching. But it's also universal, appropriate for anyone in the throws of grief. As she so succinctly says, “You can't apply math to grief. Loss is loss is loss.” For those walking with friends through grief, Anna's story will help show them how, as she recounts things people did following Jack's death that were and were not helpful to her. For example, according to her, “Hurting people want to understand; We want to know why. But we don't want people coming to conclusions for us, feeding us neat little answers of what God's will is and how his mind and heart work.”

In addition to being helpful to those walking with others through grief, I wouldn't hesitate to give Rare Bird to anyone experiencing deep grief themselves. I'm confident that in Anna's story, they'll find a tangible reminder that “You're braver than you think and that survival is possible when life's storms take us in uncertain, unwanted directions.”

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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