"Little John" is spending his summer helping his dad with his tree removal service instead of playing with his friends, not that he can admit to them that he doesn't have video games any longer since his parents sold them to pay the bills. While working at Mr King's estate he comes across a strange girl who's being fostered next door, a girl with a voice like a bird and a strange story about her parents.
As people may have guessed from the title, this is an adaption of the Hans Christian Anderson story "The Nightingale" and for once I am not grumbling over a retelling since this fairy tale hasn't been done to death before. I'm actually more familiar with the play adaption of it than the original story but even then it's easy enough to see the connections between the characters and set-up. The story remains a simple one, Mr King desires a recording of Gayle's magical voice and he gets it, although not precisely in the same way since I believe Little John is an entirely unique character here. But I like that, he's a pre-teen, black boy with a complicated life and for the most part I liked the story's balance between things he could not change and things he could. There were times when I felt like his parents were too over the stop, that they were more obstacles than characters, but the ending really helped in that regard since it started to bring help to their biggest problems. And most of all, I enjoyed how magic was written into this story and felt like it fit the tone without breaking the modern day America setting. I'm sure some people would disagree with me, since there was only one magical element and the rest of the book doesn't fit into any fantasy category, but when you start with a fairy tale I think it's appropriate to keep some of the fairy tale roots.
So, recommended whole-heartedly for middle grade readers, I think this would also work really well for kids who just read fantasy and aren't quite sure about reading contemporary fiction. While it's certainly not necessary in life to read both, there's no denying that the more rounded your reading is the better your own stories will be.