A story that will make you laugh, break your heart, and stay with you forever.
CW: mention of child abuse and terminal illness
Compared to best-selling titles like Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Diane Connell’s The Improbable Life of Ricky Bird had a lot to live up to from the beginning. But it holds its own in a brand new lane. While Ricky Bird has a similarly unreliable narrator and is just as cleverly written, this book has the potential to take readers on an even more explosive rollercoaster of emotions.
This is the story of Ricky, a young person on the brink of teenagerhood who gets thrown into an ocean of problems that they shouldn’t have to deal with. Aside from feeling like they were assigned the wrong body, Ricky feels desperate to win their dad’s approval following the split of their parents. They’ve hesitantly moved to an estate in Camden with their mum and brother Ollie, and when Ollie gets sick, Ricky is left alone with Dan, their mum’s man-bunned beer-drinking boyfriend. To cope with life, Ricky turns to their imagination.
At first, with Ricky’s quirky style of humour and fantastical yarns, the story seems light-hearted. But it’s soon obvious that their stories about underwater creatures and parasitic twins really symbolise much darker events in their life. The novel deals with seriously heavy subject matter, and as the reader learns to see through Ricky’s unreliability as a narrator, it becomes a heartbreaking read.
Despite the confronting themes and plot points, the story somehow still feels light and easily digestible. Along with scenes that might make your hair stand on end, there are also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and passages where you can’t help but admire Ricky’s wit and tenacity. They are a bright and loveable character, not just because the reader feels sorry for them, but because of their kindness towards others, their resilience when life gets tough, and of course, their adorable imagination.
Even though Ricky turns 13 over the course of the novel, this isn’t young adult fiction. Big, complex and upsetting themes like child abuse and terminal illness are dealt with through the lens of a child, but due to the nature of those ideas, it feels much more like adult fiction.
For those who like unique yet realistic and vulnerable characters flung into a bittersweet story, The Improbably Life of Ricky Bird is a must. Behind the sentimental moments and the horrible ones, there’s an enduring lesson about the power of imagination and storytelling.
Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.
Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: April 2022