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The Theory of Hummingbirds

by Michelle Kadarusman

reviewed by Mia Macrossan

Michelle Kadarusman is an Australian  teen and middle-grade fiction writer.  She grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and has also lived many years in Indonesia and in Canada. The Theory of Hummingbirds is her first publication for UQP and its a terrific book.

Levi and Alba are longtime friends now in Year 5, each with their own particular problem that makes them a little different from the other kids in their class. Levi has asthma and Alba has talipes equinovarus ( a congenital foot condition), which has been operated on many times and which she hopes has now reached the final stage when she can be ‘normal’ and do everything with the other kids at school. The writing  resonates with lived experience as Kadarusman was born with the same condition as Alba.

Levi is an indoor kind of person who lives in his head. He is keen on Stephen Hawking’s work and suspects that the school librarian, Miss Sharma, disappears into a cosmic tunnel or wormhole every lunchtime only to come back from wherever when the bell goes. He persuades Alba to help him spy on her as he is desperate to find proof for his theory. Miss Sharma is a delightful character, cheerful, helpful, and also insightful. (As a school librarian myself I did wonder how she managed to get away every lunchtime  since that is usually one of the busiest time at a  primary school, but that is a small quibble).

That is Levi’s preoccupation – Alba has a different aim. She hopes that when the cast comes off her foot she will be able to take part in the school’s annual foot race. She is totally focused on becoming normal and putting the past behind her. So we see her at the doctor’s office, doing her physio exercises, doing her best to make her dream come true. Both children become a little obsessed with their respective mindsets and this leads to a unkind words, silences and separation.

Both children are also keen students of  hummingbirds The life and habits of the hummingbird are delicately used as  metaphors throughout the story of Alba’s progress with her struggles and her dreams. They are central to the main theme of ‘love who you are and love what you can do’. (p 154) In fact this story is chock full of life lessons, all painlessly delivered: the value of friendships, old and new; believing in yourself; taking risks; the power of persistence; and family love. Alba is always appealingly human, but also a a true hero – full of mixed emotions, very funny at times,  especially when she quarrels with Levi over his ‘nerdy hobby’ and courageous.

There isn’t one unpleasant character in the whole book which zooms along in snappily written short chapters. and is a great read for middle grade. A possible follow up  read is The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley.

University of Queensland Press  June 2020 Paperback $14.99 168 p. ISBN: 978 0 7022 6292 0



  • June 11, 2020

    I’ve always wished we had hummingbirds in Australia (not that I don’t love all our other birds, as I do) so I find the title particularly appealing. The story line sound interesting too, and I’m quite intrigued to know where the librarian finds herself at lunchtime. As you say, for most school librarians, that’s their busiest time. This one is obviously a little different. Thanks for your review.

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