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The Confusion of Laurel Graham

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Seventeen-year-old Laurel Graham has a singular, all-consuming ambition in this life: become the most renowned nature photographer and birder in the world. The first step to birding domination is to win the junior nature photographer contest run by prominent Fauna magazine. Winning runs in her blood—her beloved activist and nature-loving grandmother placed when she was a girl.

One day Gran drags Laurel out on a birding expedition where the pair hear a mysterious call that even Gran can’t identify. The pair vow to find out what it is together, but soon after, Gran is involved in a horrible car accident.

Now that Gran is in a coma, so much of Laurel's world is rocked. Her gran's house is being sold, developers are coming in to destroy the nature sanctuary she treasures, and she still can't seem to identify the mystery bird.

Laurel’s confusion isn’t just a group of warblers—it’s about what means the most to her, and what she’s willing to do to fight to save it. Maybe--just maybe-if she can find the mystery bird, it will save her gran, the conservatory land, and herself.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published June 4, 2019

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About the author

Adrienne Kisner

3 books110 followers
Adrienne Kisner has master's and doctorate degrees in theology from Boston University and was inspired by her work with high school and college students to write Dear Rachel Maddow. She is also a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in writing for children and young adults. Dear Rachel Maddow is her debut.

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5 stars
27 (19%)
4 stars
50 (35%)
3 stars
38 (26%)
2 stars
23 (16%)
1 star
3 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 41 reviews
Profile Image for McKinlay.
1,014 reviews43 followers
June 6, 2019
This was absolutely fantastic. It was heart-warming, laugh out loud funny, sad, beautiful. I loved it. There's a f/f slow-burn romance. And it made me want to go birding. I love animals so this isn't a huge epiphany or anything, but i hate going outside, so that's a thing. Anyway, Adrienne Kisner is now an autobuy author for me. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Kasper.
358 reviews14 followers
April 25, 2020
This was so bad lmao. It was poorly written, the plot was all over the place with all these loose threads that all barely came together if at all, the relationship between the protag and her mom was just never resolved at all, the relationship between the protag and her love interest was so weirdly devoid of affection that felt real, and it felt like the author wanted to commit to bird puns but couldn't quite bring herself to do it. It was just not a very good book.

Also, the swearing was so weirdly timed. I too enjoy dropping an f bomb or five in casual conversation but the placement of some of the swear words was so odd that it had me wondering if the author had ever spoken to a teenager with even a half-decent command of English curse words. That's such a small thing, but by the middle of the book I was going out of my mind trying to figure out why the author was making the dialogue choices she was making.

Not rating it because I feel bad giving low stars to books that didn't have objectionable content. This one just kinda sucked.
Profile Image for Claire (Book Blog Bird).
1,052 reviews38 followers
July 14, 2020
This was like 25% cute f/f romance and 75% birdwatching. I was totally there for the f/f romance, but not so much for the birdwatching. Other than playing Wingspan a few times, I have no knowledge of/interest in American avian wildlife so I think that made this not the ideal choice of book for me.

The romance was cute; very slow-moving (so slow-moving that for large portions of the book I couldn’t work out whether the MC and her love interest actually liked each other) but otherwise ok.

I liked the activism the MC and her cronies got up to. All good stuff. The baddies were sufficiently evil (maybe a bit too evil? I prefer it when the baddies are more nuanced).

The swearing was a bit odd. I’m really sweary, but the f-bombs in this book seemed a bit misplaced?

Overall this was an ok read. Not one I’d rush out to recommend to anyone, but ok. For me, the fact that it was an f/f romance and not an m/f romance elevated it to three stars instead of two and a half.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
92 reviews1 follower
April 27, 2022
This was a cute YA novel! I gave it 4 stars because I could've gone on without the use of the F word so much. I enjoyed getting to follow Laurel and see her love for her family and birds grow, as well as watching Laurel mature a bit more throughout the story. There was a lot of talk about birds throughout this entire story and although I'm not a bird enthusiast, I do love to listen and watch them. I think I even learned a few things about birds from this book! If you want a quick, cute YA read, then this one's for you!
Profile Image for Barbara.
13k reviews267 followers
August 1, 2019
This one would be a 3.5 for me. I like books with characters that have depth or those that have unusual hobbies. I found both of those requirements met in this YA novel. Seventeen-year-old Laurel Graham is a passionate wildlife photographer and budding ornithologist. She comes by her interest naturally as her maternal grandmother also loves birding. When her grandmother is injured severely and ends up in a coma while out looking for birds, Laurel blames herself, especially when the woman remains unresponsive, and the town's mayor and developers seize this moment to make an offer on her home and the land nearby. Laurel is adamant that this will not happen, especially when she learns that building a school in the area will be detrimental to the environment. She becomes embroiled in an effort to protest these efforts and reveal the real reasons behind the development while also trying to identify a mysterious bird she keeps hearing and glimpsing. Desperate to reach her grandmother, Laurel sees the bird as a sign from her grandmother. Although some readers may not like all the politics and social activism, I did. I also liked watching the romance between Laurel and Risa grow from enmity to something solid. One of my favorite aspects of this book, though, would have to be the quotes from birder Brian Michael Warbley, whose words and life provide inspiration for Laurel and others like her. I also liked the field notes as chapter headings. Readers looking for a feel good read with a completely happy ending won't find it here, but they will find an honest depiction of a girl trying to come to terms with loss while figuring out what it's possible to change. There is also a subplot involving Laurel's mother and her many failures at dating. I was left wanting to know more but also respecting Laurel for being able to take care of herself despite her mother's failings.
33 reviews8 followers
November 3, 2019
Loved the premise and the characters and would've given it a four out of five but whoever was tasked with doing the copyediting really pissed me off, so I deducted a star.

Contractions weren't used where they should've been so the language was clunky enough for the majority of the book that it took me out of being there with the characters in scenes where dialogue should've been smooth as opposed to stilted.

This book deserved better than that--also how I felt about the cover art that was chosen here, especially given the beauty of the "Dear Rachel Maddow" cover.

This was a good book, though, with compelling characters and situations: a kickass grandparent, an infuriating "parental" figure, a two-faced reporter, corrupt public officials, shortsighted and ill-informed citizens, and people fighting the good fight in the face of environmental destruction. And, of course, a potential love story. Wish I could see what comes next for these birders...with appropriate contractions, of course 😉
Profile Image for Anne.
4,379 reviews41 followers
February 25, 2020
Laurel and her Gran are avid bird watchers. When an accident puts Gran in a coma, Laurel starts hearing an unfamiliar bird call. She thinks it is her Gran calling to her and that if she finds this bird, she will somehow find her Gran. In addition to this, her mom is dating someone new in a long string of boyfriends, the park/wetlands where she works and does most of her birdwatching is the proposed construction site for a new school, and she may have a crush on her former photography nemesis.

The story is fine, the characters are fine... It's a serviceable YA novel with an LGBT romance. High school appeal for age of characters but would be fine in middle school.
3,734 reviews18 followers
July 30, 2019
There were so many enticing elements here that drew me to the book: activism, birding, nature photography, warm relationship with a grandmother. But despite my earnest efforts to enjoy this, I was very put off by the voice of the narrator. It never rang true to me and there was a casual flippancy that is something I often like but found very off-putting here. It also felt to me that we were told of Laurel's emotions but rarely really experienced them through the narration.

Profile Image for Laina SpareTime.
478 reviews19 followers
January 1, 2021
Cross-posted from my blog where there's more information on where I got my copy and links and everything.

You know what this reminded me of? It reminded me of Hoot but, like, YA and also queer. And less wacky, but I feel like kids who read Hoot and then got really into birds as teenagers are going to love this. This review is going a very weird place.

Having taken a little break to eat a meal and sleep for a while, hopefully this review can get back to a normal place. To be honest with you all, for some reason I thought this would have something supernatural going on when I started reading it. I don’t know why I thought that, since there’s absolutely nothing about the summary that would make me go there. This is fully a contemporary book.

It’s a good one, too. I think it’s one of those “Quiet YA” books people talk about. I honestly haven’t seen a ton of people talking about this one, but they really should. I think this is a well-balanced book. I liked the themes of activism, grieving, and healing. It’s all very gentle with it, really. Laurel and her grandmother are very close but it’s still a bit of a different narrative than losing a parent or friend that changes the tone.

Plus the romance in this is super sweet. I appreciated that it wasn’t super rushed, nor did it take over the entire book. And there is absolutely no angst about Laurel being queer or anything. She just is, and it’s not made a big thing of. It’s honestly quite refreshing.

Throw in a super supportive and close friendship, some interesting representation of non-traditional schooling (Laurel and Risa are in some kind of work study program where they only go to school once a week?), and me learning some interesting facts about birds, and I enjoyed this one. Solid four out of five roses.

Representation: Laurel and her love interest Risa are both queer, though neither of them use specific labels in the book. One of the kids from the co-op they work at has two moms, which is nice to see.

Content warnings: Laurel’s grandmother’s accident isn’t shown or anything, but Laurel does deal with a lot of grief and also self-blame over it. Which makes sense, because she’s seventeen. There’s also some mild aromisic language.

Other notes:

The acknowledgments say, “At least this one has less swearing in it?” and then like the third line drops the F-bomb. I cracked up.
Profile Image for Alexa.
121 reviews29 followers
July 13, 2019
A little slow the get started, but I really enjoyed this book!

It reflected some of my own relationship with my mother back at me, and did a good job I think of showing a mother-daughter relationship that was realistic in all the ways it was imperfect. And I appreciated that there was no quick fix for that part of the conflict. Sometimes you have to accept that your parents have failings, and move forward without their full support.

I loved the activism aspect also. It felt a little bit unresolved to me because we don't get they WHYs all the way explained, and I loved the local feel and the enthusiasm on both sides of the issue. It really is a crystalized image of what activism feels like.

The queer aspect was so downplayed I went in not even knowing if this book was gay! But I found it really charming that Laurel was allowed to like girls and have her romantic subplot without THAT becoming a source of drama or conflict. Her romance was really cute and slow burn and fun. Watching her figure out her feelings was hilarious in the best way.

This book took a long time to really hold my attention but it did a lot of things well, and I did enjoy it a lot. 8/10, would recommend!
Profile Image for Brie.
300 reviews54 followers
July 31, 2019
I have to be in just the right mood to actually sit down and read (not listen) to a YA Contemporary book. So when I decided to start THE CONFUSION OF LAUREL GRAHAM this weekend I was apprehensive. It tuned out to be *exactly* what I needed! I started it on Friday morning and finished it Sunday evening. It was witty, moving and I just loved all of the different bird and photography references.

Laurel is a senior in high school who is spending her summer working at the local nature reserve. When her Grandmother and fellow avian enthusiast is in a tragic accident, she begins to wonder if the new bird call she's been hearing is really her grandmother trying to tell her something. With the fate of the nature reserve up in the air, Laurel rallies her flock (see what I did there?!) to try and "fight the man" and save the day.

As the daughter of a nature photographer, the synopsis for this book really spoke to me. It reads much like a middle grade novel, except that it includes a lot of f-bombs in the dialogue. The main character is about to start her senior year in high school, there is minimal romance and the plot is not super dramatic/"high stakes." Sometimes that's exactly what I'm looking for. I might classify this as a lighthearted yet moving story. Like I said, YA contemporary can be truly hit or miss for me and this was a huge hit. I was captivated by the plot and found myself laughing out loud and nodding my head at some of the things written. I'd definitely recommend this to any nature loving friends.
Profile Image for Laura.
28 reviews
July 8, 2020

YA realistic “problem” book: The Confusion of Laurel Graham

Characters: Laurel Graham, Risa, Gram

Themes: Perseverance,

Quote: “They (birds) fight for what’s theirs. They are warriors.” Page 2

Target Audience: HIgh Schoolers

In this realistic fiction, Laurel Graham is an avid birder and renowned nature photographer, just like her grandmother. Laurel is trying to fill her grandmother’s footsteps and win in the junior nature photographer contest runned by the Fauna magazine. Laurel’s mother, an educator and man crazy, is less active in Laurel’s life. Laurel’s rock is her grandmother. Together they hear a mysterious bird sound and cannot identify the bird. They promise that together they will find this mysterious bird and add it to their list, until her grandmother is in a horrible accident. Laurel worked in a nature reserve and close by is her grandmother’s home. Suddenly with her grandmother in the hospital, hospital bills coming, her mother finding another man, and the town threatening to build a new school in her nature reserve, she tries to find the strength that birds and her grandmother have. Laurel and Risa, another birder, together search for the mystery bird in the hopes that inside that bird is Gram givin Laurel a message.

I am not a bird enthusiast, therefore I am not sure if the facts and connections made by the author were correct. The book has lots of bird analogies and facts that sometimes made me want to stop reading. Too much birding in my perspective. In addition, the profanity used by Laurel is something I would not like to be reading, I hear it enough in the streets. Yes, it is supposed to demonstrate Laurel’s frustrations and dedication to birds, but I did not enjoy it.

As for educators, this book can be used to show a different perspective of development. Laurel, along with other birders, come together to protest the school development. Laurel’s warrior characteristics come from the love of birds, another little warrior, and her grandmother.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
11 reviews
March 1, 2022
This was so painful to finish. Maybe it was the narrator of the audiobook (They didn’t do different voices for the different characters so keeping track of who was speaking was impossible and they did a bad job at tone and making the character seem realistic.) Laurel is an interesting character and ornithology is a pretty cool hobby and I love environmental activism . However, this book drags on so very long. I was so bored I fell asleep listening to it in the middle of the day. I felt all the characters around Laurel were flat especially her mother and the love interest was frankly more interesting than Laurel. Instead of making Laurel’s Mom’s Dramatic behavior. This book would have probably been better if we saw both Laurel and Risa in a dual narrative. I read Six Angry Girls and that was more interesting than this the dual narrative worked super well with that book. I think this book would have as well. The romance made sense but the activism was a bit clunky. I love all the nods to parks in PA as I lived there a few years. But sadly I just wish this had been more compelling in some way.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephan.
18 reviews
August 2, 2019
I heard about this book via Tara Santora and their article for the National Audubon Society. I knew it would be full of quality bird content, but I didn't expect it to be so wonderfully queer! (It made sense to me once I realized Adrienne Kisner also wrote Dear Rachel Maddow, which I'd seen in passing but made the mistake of not reading. It's in the queue now!)

As a queer birder who knows many queer birders, it’s amazing to see that queerness and birding represented in a YA novel. When I was a teenager, I worried that the only way to meet other queer folks would be at bars and parties. I wish I had known Laurel Graham back then! She truly leans into what she loves and who she is, and stays on her path with fierce determination.

I loved the characters. I found them to be interesting, complex, and three-dimensional — sometimes delightfully surprising, sometimes so realistically predictable.

I loved the strong sense of place. I’ve only ever passed through Pennsylvania on a train, but now I feel like I’ve spent two months birding in a small town there.

I loved the touch of magical realism to Laurel's search for the mystery bird. It starts out feeling like the familiar (to me) frustration of a tricky bird ID, but then it evolves and takes on a more symbolic role in the story. At so many points, I wanted to flip ahead and find out what the bird was! But I stayed strong, and it was worth it.

I loved (hatefully) the conflicts. The dealings with bros in birding rang SO true for me, as did the issues at home, the elements of political corruption, and the backlash against those taking a stand. I felt such real resentment towards all of it.

Perhaps most of all, I loved Gran, and Laurel and Gran’s relationship. I want six seasons and a movie about Gran.

Overall, The Confusion of Laurel Graham is a bittersweet novel with passionate characters who fight for what’s right. I recommend you read it, and that you ask your library to purchase it!
Profile Image for Meghan.
2,067 reviews
February 7, 2019
This book was received as an ARC from Macmillan Children's Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own.

I absolutely love the message of this book and the struggles, trials, and trubulations Laurel went through to save her life, her grandmother, and the sanctuary that her and gran love. This book also got me curious about the science of bird calling and what will it take to identify this mystery bird and the power it possesses to turn Laurel's world upside down. There were also so many life lessons reflected in this book that it might change at least one person's viewpoint on life or at least it did mine.

We will definitely consider adding this title to our YFiction collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
Profile Image for Jenni Frencham.
1,284 reviews52 followers
April 17, 2019
Laurel loves birds, her grandmother, and nature. But when her grandmother is out exploring and is hit by a car, Laurel blames herself for her grandmother's coma. Things don't improve when her mother decides to sell gram's house to developers. Laurel is grappling with guilt over her grandmother's injuries, frustration at her mother, on top of the standard drama of high school.

This is an okay book but not a fantastic book. Laurel isn't the only one who is confused - I, too, had difficulty following what exactly was happening and which plot line was the central focus. The story meandered more than necessary, but would still appeal to many teen readers.

I received a complimentary copy of the book through Netgalley for review purposes.
5 reviews
May 9, 2019
I received this ARC from a Goodreads giveaway.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It is one of the few YA books I have read that is an accurate depiction of the teenage mind in this day and age. Not only that, but it was a well-written LGBTQ book and one of the few YA books that didn't force the romance story line.

Laurel is a powerful character who, like most teenagers these days, is growing up in an increasingly political climate. As an avid birder, she works at the local nature center alongside her frenemy Risa. When Laurel's world is turned upside down by her grandmother's accident, she seeks stability in protecting what she loves.
398 reviews5 followers
May 17, 2019
Didn't spark for me quite the same way Kisner's 2018 release Dear Rachel Maddow did, but I thought it deftly tackled multiple plots - everything breezed right by, although that did make the ending feel a little flimsier and less rooted than the rest of the book. Overall, there was an importance to the issues without overdramatizing or adding gratuitous misunderstandings and twists, something I appreciated in Kisner's writing in the past. I liked reading Laurel's perspective, and I'm always drawn to passion in teen characters so her unironic interest in birding was delightful.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
December 3, 2020
The title reminds me of Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, but it is obviously not the same level after reading a few pages of it. The author does not seem to understand the real adolescent world or even really care about it-- it is just a kind of hypocritical understanding like the cases in educational studying(don't take it personally, it is just towards the book; I really wish it could be better next time). At least for me, when a writer decides to write about real adolescent or children's work, he/she have to be innocent and without the most social training. Don't write for the writer's glory or imagining the reader's clapping hands. Try to be a real educator through writing.
Profile Image for Ash.
97 reviews7 followers
May 21, 2019
This was sweet. It felt a little like retro Nancy Drew, with the way the mystery was presented. It’s definitely a YA book that, despite some of the language, I would probably recommend to younger teens. Especially any kids who love birds. I loved Laurel’s reldationship with her grandmother. However, I found her mother to be an incredibly annoying character. I feel like this would would translate well into a fun quirky film.

*ARC provided by Netgalley for my honest review
Profile Image for SOAP CHAMP.
590 reviews
April 24, 2020
Actual rating 2.5
It was just okay. Mom's character was really dumb and horribly written and I didn't feel like the conflict between these two got resolved. Honestly, I don't know that any conflict really got resolved. I was barely invested in it by the end that everything felt so anti-climactic and unimportant. It's a good mindless read but I personally did not enjoy it as much as I was hoping.
*This review is based off an ARC
Profile Image for Christine.
360 reviews
November 20, 2020
Laurel and her Gran enjoyed birdwatching together. One day, they heard the call of a bird that even Gran could not identify. Shortly afterward, Gran was in an accident that left her in a coma. Laurel was convinced that Gran's spirit inhabited the unknown, elusive bird. This plot reminded me of The Astonishing Color of After, and left me similarly confused. I read this book because of the LGBT+ tag, but thought the slow-burn sapphic romance was underwhelming. I wished this book had fewer birds and more sapphic romance.
Profile Image for meg.
62 reviews9 followers
August 5, 2019
This book was fun to read! I really love birds AND not to mention theres a good sapphic romance in there. Its a win win! I've never read a book where the story involves birding so reading about it and seeing the characters get super excited over birds was something I could relate to and allowed me to get invested in the story! My only complaint was the writing at times was a little cheesy.
Profile Image for Tabitha.
566 reviews
April 29, 2020
A sweet story that takes readers into the world of birding, which is actually more exciting than it sounds. Laurel is dealing with a family crisis while her second home -- a nature preserve -- is being threatened.

I read an ARC and it needed a least two more proofs (grammar errors and stilted language). But the author has promise and I would definitely read another book by her.
June 25, 2020
I had a lot of trouble buying into the idea that there was a town filled with teenage birders who all love nature photography... I just really struggled to get into the story and almost put it down. It redeemed itself somewhat in the second half, but definitely wasn’t my favourite and I can’t imagine it appealing that well to most teens.
75 reviews
August 25, 2019
Let me get this straight...an author goes to one of the best MFA programs in the country, and comes back with first a love story to Rachel Maddow followed by a novel that begins with the F bomb dropped on each page for the first 19 pages?? Glad I borrowed from the library and glad I DNF.
Profile Image for Terri Grief.
10 reviews13 followers
March 29, 2019
I liked the story but thought the gratuitous graphic language was unnecessary. I don't mind graphic language when it adds to the character but this just seemed forced.
Profile Image for Kelly K.
1,872 reviews13 followers
August 7, 2019
3.5 stars.
Pretty much your typical YA but with an ending I actually really liked, birding lingo, and LGBTQ+ main characters.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 41 reviews

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