James Whitman always does his best to live in the style of his hero of the same last name, the poet Walt Whitman. He tries to start each day with a YAWP!, celebrate himself, and find beauty in everything and everyone. But it’s difficult. Ever since his sister Jorie was expelled from school and kicked out of the house by his less-than-tender parents, James has struggled with frequent anxiety attacks and an underlying depression. The story follows the ups and downs of his internal war between joy and sadness, tipped by good and bad events and changes in his life.
For me, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets was nice, but not earth-shattering. Its biggest strength by far was its main character, James. James was funny, sweet, relatable, and loveably vulnerable and innocent. His narration was very fresh and enjoyable—maybe a bit reminiscent of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with more sarcasm and poetry references. James’ infatuation with Walt Whitman was a nice framing for the story, and the thing that drew me to pick up the book in the first place. James’ chats with Dr. Bird, his imaginary therapist who happens to be a giant pigeon, also stood out to me. And the relationship between James and Jorie, as two siblings both struggling with depression, James always looking for help from Jorie and Jorie feeling unable to give it, was interesting, as was the evolution of James’ friendship with Derek, an older guy who seems at first like a very superficial friend, but begins to prove himself as more than that.
As for the other aspects of the book, they were all solid enough, but I don’t think they’ll stick with me a few months from now. There just wasn’t much in the plot that gave it that extra sha-bam. I guess not that much officially happens; there aren’t a lot of big plot events to drive things forward and upward. In the end, it reads somewhat like a meditation on depression and anxiety disorders, which might be meaningful to some, but as for standing on its own as a novel, for more topical purposes, it falls a bit short. I’m not into judging books against each other, but I can’t help Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story coming to mind, since I love that book so much; and Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets ends up looking like that book’s younger brother, which hasn’t quite come of age yet.
So all in all, I’d say this is a take-or-leaver. You won’t be wasting your time horribly by picking it up, but there are better options out there.