Bibliophile | ‘The Improbable Life of Ricky Bird’ by Diane Connell

The Improbable Life of Ricky Bird
by Diane Connell
Simon & Schuster

Twelve year old Ricky (formally known as Vicki) believed that there were two types of disaster. There were catastrophes like landslides and tidal waves and there was the type of disaster that “crept up and slithered in”. Ricky’s disaster arrived with stealth and the accumulated effects were devastating.

At a time when her body was betraying her, her father was packing his things into boxes and moving to the other side of London to start a new family and her mother was moving to be closer to her fake-smiling boyfriend Dan.

Ricky thought that all boys except her 6 year old brother Ollie were disgusting. But it was better to be a boy than whatever her body’s treacherous hormones were trying to force on her, so she changed her name and started binding the bumps on her chest. She found that doing lots of strengthening exercises, taking vitamins and not eating helped as well.

“When she did exercises on an empty stomach, she felt like part of the air” and “the thinner she became, the less visible and vulnerable she felt”. Ricky also found solace by helping seventy-six year old Mr Snow (Snowy) in the community garden, making up stories for Ollie who had a mystery illness and the story-writing workshops at the local community centre.

Despite all her efforts, Ricky’s world begins to spiral out of control. She had seen the insides of a golf ball and how the elastic unwound, making the ball smaller and smaller. “Now she was the one unraveling, sloughing off layer after layer of herself”, losing all the things that had once given meaning to her life.

It is at the hospital that she meets Jack who lives at the same estate as her and has the same birthday. Both Ollie and Ricky are wise beyond their years and Ricky’s imagination takes both of them away from the troubles of the present. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the real from the imagined.

Although humour carries most of the story, this is a hard-hitting cautionary tale as Ricky is still a child. Some of the adults responsible for looking after her have failed her and Ricky’s dreams try to make sense of the chaos. Fortunately heroes emerge from unlikely places.

Lezly Herbert

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