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Border Songs

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  1,908 Ratings  ·  403 Reviews
Set in the previously sleepy hinterlands straddling Washington state and British Columbia, Border Songs is the story of Brandon Vanderkool, six foot eight, frequently tongue-tied, severely dyslexic, and romantically inept. Passionate about bird-watching, Brandon has a hard time mustering enthusiasm for his new job as a Border Patrol agent guarding thirty miles of largely i ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 13th 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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B the BookAddict
Mar 10, 2016 B the BookAddict rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: my library "who to read next"
Shelves: fiction

This is my first Jim Lynch novel so his style was totally unknown to me. But I was captivated by the opening sentence and the story that followed. There is a whole slew of slightly oddball characters in this novel.

The hero of our story is Brandon: he's 6ft 8in tall and solidly built, severely dyslexic, can mimic bird calls and likes to builds banners of made of leaves and towers of stones. He wants most of all to be inconspicuous. At his father's insistence, he's recently joined the US Border P
Laura C.
Jan 26, 2013 Laura C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to check this book out for the cover art alone, which features a boiling mass of birds doing every darn thing birds do, on a falling tree limb by Walton Ford. And I suppose that piece might be a metaphor for the whole boiling mass of humanity but the book is really just about a small town. My small town, in fact. Yes. I mean Everson. Well – mostly Lynden. Even Sumas gets a mention. Some of the things my friends around here might recognize: the statue of liberty that used to be on that farm ...more
Jul 30, 2011 Laysee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Blaine, Washington, Border Songs explores current security issues along the US-Canada Border. Jim Lynch, a journalist who used to work for the Seattle Times post Sep 11, writes with a touch of authencity about human trafficking, terrrorist threats, illegal cultivation of marijuana, and the drug trade that fueled... intense paranoia, which led to intensified border patrols. At center stage is Brandon Vanderkool, a quirky 6' 8" young man with dyslexia, farmer turned border patrol agent, who ...more
Jan 04, 2015 Marianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Border Songs is the second novel by American journalist and author, Jim Lynch. After training to join the Border Patrol in New Mexico eight months ago, Brandon Vanderkool is glad to be back home in the familiar northwest corner of his native Washington State. Brandon Vanderkool is NOT cool. Brandon is very tall, well-built, severely dyslexic and awkward around humans: never sure of what to say, mostly incapable of getting the joke, he relates much better to his father’s dairy cows, knows every b ...more
Mar 16, 2013 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the four stars implies, I liked this book. In fact I really liked this book, but this year I am getting tougher on what gets a full five stars. In years past this book and his most recent would have been five stars (what a reviewer cop-out).

This book is the story of the U.S. Canadian border in WA state, it is a story of the people that live there, but ultimately it is the story of Brandon Vanderkool, how he interacts with the world and how the world interacts with him. Brandon is a huge (6'8
Bookmarks Magazine
"Critics fell hard for the oversized and endearingly awkward Brandon Vanderkool, and marveled at Lynch's ability to create a ""fascinating protagonist"" (Vancouver Sun), ""an imaginative tour de force"" (Globe and Mail), and a highly original hero who is ""as Northwest as moss on a stump"" (Seattle Times). It was nice to see reviews from outside the Pacific Northwest as well. Lynch's humorous, sometimes melancholy depiction of small-town border life also brought favorable comparisons to Pulitzer ...more
Dec 14, 2009 Tia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Oh dear.

The premise seemed intriguing: cross-Canadian border drug running, in the remote parts of Washington state.

But the writing. Every sentence is about 50 words long, clumsily constructed, and full of strange, discordant, and ineffective imagery.

The characters? Both ludicrous and boring to read about. The main character is a 6'8" clumsy, bird-obsessed border patrolman with the brain of a simpleton. Much of his internal monologue is simply counting birds. Everyone's dialog is stilted and unn
Book Concierge
3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

Dyslexic Brandon Vanderkool has just joined the Border Patrol, but he would rather be working on his father’s dairy farm, exploring the woods, watching birds, and painting. Madeline Rousseau lives next door, just across the ditch that marks the US-Canadian border. Her father, Wayne, is a retired professor with multiple sclerosis who uses cannabis medicinally. Brandon’s father, Norm, has a bum knee, a dairy farm in trouble, and a wife with early Alzheimer’s. Into thi
Jul 05, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i didn't read 'highest tide' when it came out. no real reason, other than the fact that i hate to jump on a band wagon, and, at least in the pacific northwest, the whole world was already reading it. but when 'border songs' came out, i got an advance and decided that i wasn't going to put off reading it.

i really like the real feel of the characters in this one. the style is simple, unadorned... perfect. i grew up in bellingham and spent a lot of time up north where this story takes place. it fe
Feb 25, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 08, 2015 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
A terrific read about as motley a band of armed and/or disarming characters you're likely to meet along the British Columbia-Washington State border. Our protagonist is Brian Vanderkool, a 6'8" rookie Border Patrol Officer who would just as soon spot birds and create environmental art pieces as track and apprehend illegals, and smugglers. Problem is he's what his colleagues call a "shit magnet," and if there's anything untoward going on anywhere near he spots it. It's Brian's extended circle tha ...more
Rena Jane
Feb 03, 2011 Rena Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd heard some nay-saying about this book, so was anxious to see for myself. I loved it.

The main character, Brandon Vanderkool is a physically imposing but clumsy, socially inept young man who has gone to work for the Border Patrol in northwest Washington. He is obsessed with the appearance, sounds and behaviors of birds. His attention to them seems to drive other crazy, or prompt them to laugh at him, but in his search for more birds to count, he unwittingly finds many people attempting to cro
Larry Hoffer
Boy, I wanted to love this book so badly. Jim Lynch's first book, The Highest Tide, was absolutely beautiful. This book is equally well-written and at times it tugs some emotional strings, but despite the fact that the main character is amazingly memorable, the book never fully hooked me.

Six-foot, eight-inch Brandon Vanderkool, a dyslexic, artistically-bent "gentle giant," has been pushed by his father off their dairy farm into working for the Border Guard, patrolling the border between Canada a
Sep 15, 2014 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kathy by: Karen R. & Suzanne C.
I liked Border Songs, by Jim Lynch. It starts off with a light heart and some giggles, and then the tension builds as you begin to worry about the fates of the characters and the changing way of life along the US/Canada border (which, in this book, set in northwestern Washington, is marked by a two-foot ditch). The story features a young artist, birds of many species, life on a dairy farm, pot smuggling, and a couple of love stories. Mr. Lynch is a very good writer. (There was one confusing sent ...more
Jun 28, 2012 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many reviews have given you a taste of the plot, I'll skip that and just tell you why I enjoyed Border Songs by Jim Lynch so much. This isn't the kind of book that will blow your hair back, or if you are follically challenged like me, it won't cause your heart to speed up, your breathing to accelerate or your stomach to knot up. Instead, it did just the opposite for me. It caused me to slow down and contemplate the beauty and wonder that are all around me each day, the beauty that I take for gra ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Agatha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the bits about bird-watching and his skillful creation of character and community (made it feel very real), but, if there is any weakness, perhaps I’d say that I felt the rest of the plot was only loosely tied together and never quite convinced me as to why I should car or read about this community. Also, never quite explained why Brandon was so good at catching the border runners; merely hinted that it was some sort of savant-type quality of his, that came along part and parcel ...more
Paula Hebert
this is a story of the american border; the northern american border, which most of us I think, rarely consider. but it has become an increasing problem area, and very understaffed to meet the challenge of the modern-day bad guys. so, into this setting is put our unlikely hero, a 6 foot 8 inch highly functioning autistic and savant artist. he manages to pass the border police exam through a serirs of happy accidents, and because of his unique way of seeing the world around him, becomes the arres ...more
Mar 22, 2010 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-novels
Lynch constructed an entire community around Brendan Van der Koop the new border patrol agent from Linden,Washington. I loved him and wish I could hang out with him like his neighbor the masseuse who videotapes him whenever she gets the chance. Brendan can't stop himself from doing bird lists in his head as he goes through his day. Then at night or on his days off, he paints or sculpts the people he encounters including those whom he arrests. You begin to think that autism is a real gift. Even i ...more
Oct 30, 2014 anne marked it as couldnt-finish  ·  review of another edition
I reached 65 pages and I just can't do it anymore. I understood less than 50% of what those 65 pages got to offer. Everything is confusing. The choice of words. The writing style. There's one whole sentence in one page. I've stopped reading for 3 days because of this book and I think if I'm going to try any further, I'm gonna stop reading all together. Such a pity for a nice cover and intriguing introduction.
Mar 30, 2012 Diane rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Diane by: Jeannie Garrity and Mark Oswood
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
More like couldn't even get started! I wanted to read this because it is clearly set in and around Lynden where one of our daughters lives. Also, I have had so many different experiences with the border patrol that I thought it would be fun. I knew all the border guys (all men then) when we lived in Bonners and they were nice, real, regular people. I have had some very funny exchanges with the border patrol (one time they asked us "Where do you love?" instead of "Where do you live?" - we were so ...more
Feb 01, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dissatisfied. Started fairly well, with odd, interesting characters but a surprisingly uninspiring location for a few colliding worlds (border agents, dairy farmers and pot growers) - but the characters just got weirder, their progress amounted to nothing, and I lost interest in the story which was something and nothing. Norm is the one engaging element but even he is a little too obviously drawn.
J. Gray
Aug 04, 2014 J. Gray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Happy enough with the story, even laughed out loud a few times. Just a tad let down by the abrupt, for me, ending......but then, as they say, Everybody's a, Comedian.
Jennifer Louden
Dec 17, 2012 Jennifer Louden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh what a book - such real and flawed and charming characters! This is one of the best examples I have ever read of the maxim character is story and story is character. What brilliance Jim Lynch has created with Brandon - an over-sized dyslexic artist + birder who lives on the border between Canada and Washington - and how because of who he is - his talents and foibles - creates story events. And the writing! I highly recommend if you love stories about endearing real characters; stories involvi ...more
Patricia Geller
Sep 12, 2015 Patricia Geller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quirky cast of characters Interesting take on post 9/11 America in rural Pacific Northwest.
Rob Brunet
Nov 10, 2012 Rob Brunet rated it liked it
I expected Border Songs to be amusing and maybe just a bit radical. It didn't let me down.

What I didn't expect was a truckload of warmly sketched characters, each better than the last at grabbing my attention and challenging my beliefs, making me look forward to their next appearance on Jim Lynch's well-crafted carousel.

Dipping back and forth across the sometimes arbitrary line that divides Canada from the U.S., Lynch gives us a timely illustration of what's great and what's challenging about a
Amy Paget
Jun 13, 2015 Amy Paget rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Border Songs is a difficult novel with a profound sense of setting. The lead character, Brandon Vanderkool, is an extremely tall dyslexic who leaves his family's Washington dairy farm to join the Border Patrol. Vanderkool’s dyslexia and autism fuels his obsessions with birds and art and enables him to be extremely adept at catching smugglers and illegal immigrants on the British Columbian border. Cultural differences with their Canadian neighbors and the uncertainties of the dairy industry facto ...more
Schuyler Wallace
It took a while to settle into Jim Lynch’s reticent writing style, although I never was totally enthralled. “Border Songs,” a novel of smuggling, unlikely law enforcement, and characters struggling to hack out an economic existence, kept my drowsy eyes searching for something dramatic to unfold. Nothing much happened except for occasional writing techniques and characterizations that managed to create some appeal.

The most enjoyable character is Brandon Vanderkool, a native of the Northern Washi
Border Songs is not my type of book. It starts out like the wacky races with a bunch of unusual characters all competing for our attention. First there is the severely dyslexic, gentle giant, Brandon, who communes with the birds and creates works of art out of natural objects in the forest. Somehow he has managed to get a job working for the U.S. border patrol where he begins to show an almost supernatural ability to catch smugglers.

That would have been enough for me, but Lynch has also given u
This book gives us the "bore" in "Border Songs" as it chronicles the tale of a quirky young border guard in the Pacific Northwest. Brandon Vanderkool just wants to count birds and care for his dad's sick cows, but no. He has to arrest these bothersome drug (pot) runners from Canada. Sound exciting? About as thrilling as a crow sighting, maybe. Lynch can write well, I just didn't much care about this book. Little plot. As for the characters, you'd as soon invest in GM as them.
Aug 17, 2014 Devin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Border Songs is a bit like reading Richard Russo's characters transplanted into the Pacific Northwest with a David Simon-like flair for writing about both sides of the drug trade. Think of it as The Wire meets Empire Falls. Wonderfully flawed characters that remain true to themselves as they navigate the ups and downs of life along the US-Canadian border. The twin "wars" on drugs and terrorism rage as a backdrop to this strikingly quiet story about community survivors.
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Jim Lynch is the author of the novels The Highest Tide, Border Songs and Truth Like the Sun, all of which were performed on stage and won prizes, including an Indies Choice Honor Book Award, a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and a Dashiell Hammett Prize finalist. His next novel, Before the Wind, will be released in April 2016. As a newspaper reporter, Lynch has won national awards, including t
More about Jim Lynch...

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“He looked older, too, like a man sucking it up, wrestling with problems he had been trying to conceal. This Norm saw as progress” 0 likes
“Strangers, he remembered, can tell you how old you are without trying. The looks you get or don't get let you know exactly where you're at, where you're headed and where you can never go again.” 0 likes
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