BookBrowse Reviews Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Wesley the Owl

The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

by Stacey O'Brien

Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2009, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Wesley the Owl is a love story that begins when a young, compassionate biologist adopts a baby bird - and unknowingly embarks on a relationship that will last almost two decades

O'Brien's story of her profound friendship with a barn owl is strange, exciting, lovely and important. A much-needed corrective to our sanitized, human-centric view of animals as instinct machines or as pets that can be trained to perform stupid tricks, Wesley the Owl reasserts the powerful and sometimes icky otherworldliness and breathtaking complexity of nature. Prepare to be enlightened, disgusted, delighted and humbled.

O'Brien is a thoroughly animal-oriented person. Her friends keeps goats, horses and dogs and spend their time studying owls, vultures, or rotting sea mammal carcasses. She and her fellow biologists pride themselves on their ability to suppress disgust and on their constant and enthusiastic interest in the minutiae of nature. Describing her time working in the owl labs at Caltech, O'Brien notes a biologist whose body has become a permanent host for parasites he'd picked up in the Amazon while studying monkeys. These Amazonian worms are always visible crawling under or breaking through his skin. O'Brien describes another man whose study of spiders becomes so obsessive that he begins taking black widows home and cooing over the spider babies that he finds irresistibly cute.

All but a very few readers will gag at the thought of sharing one's body with worms and will pity the man who has come to view spiders of any age as adorable, but those who will enjoy Wesley the Owl the most will be those who sympathize just a little with these extremists. You don't have to be an all-out animal enthusiast to like this book, but you have to be interested in what animals really do, and open to the idea that a person and an animal can enjoy a deep and serious relationship.

I suspect that O'Brien includes these animal-obsessed eccentrics in her story to let the reader know that she is not one of them, and to locate her relationship with Wesley squarely within the bounds of the sane and the rational. In fact, much of what O'Brien gives are objective and scientific descriptions of owl behavior, physiology and psychology, beginning with her first observation of the helpless four-day-old owl chick and culminating in a lovingly detailed description of 19 year old Wesley's death in her arms. O'Brien's disciplined objectivity is especially remarkable because her place in her owl's life is so singular and their connection so deep and emotional. O'Brien is owl mother and owl protector, owl playmate and owl soul mate, always working to insure that Wesley will be as complete an owl as he can possibly be in captivity. O'Brien becomes exquisitely attuned to Wesley's vocalizations and movements just as he becomes attuned to her words and her habits.

While Wesley assumes a distinct and interesting personality and accomplishes amazing acts of understanding (he eventually is able to measure the passage of time and learns, for example, exactly what "two hours" means. He achieves an understanding of many words and phrases including "you are handsome," "magazine," "water," "not for owls."), his instinctive, ordinary owl behaviors are especially fascinating. A large part of the memoir is a record of Wesley's grooming, feather structure, molting and growth, sleep habits, hearing, flight, hunting and eating. I knew that owls ate mice, but only now do I understand how they eat them, when they eat them, or what mice-parts they can digest. And Wesley is not the only creature whose habits and behavior the reader follows: O'Brien herself is always changing, sometimes to adapt herself to a new phase in Wesley's development, or because of something new she's discovered about his abilities or interests.

Wesley grows to love his caretaker – he attempts to feed her mice, to build her a nest, and to protect her from men who appear to be his rivals— and O'Brien's patient and respectful dedication to her owl deepens into great love. Wesley is O'Brien's companion during illness and sad times, her inspiration, and her best friend; caring for Wesley provides a reason to keep on living during her bleakest depression, enlarges her sense of the possible, alters her values and connects her deeply to nature.

Reading Wesley the Owl makes us look more closely and listen more carefully to the creatures with whom we share the world, and reminds us of what it takes and the rewards available to those who dedicate themselves wholly to another. Young people interested in studying biology or who are curious about owls after reading the Harry Potter series will discover through Wesley that even ordinary barn owls are truly magical.

Reviewed by Jo Perry

This review was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the June 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...
  • Book Jacket: Dadland
    Dadland
    by Keggie Carew
    In her notable debut, Keggie Carew examines the life of her father Tom, a decorated war hero whose ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -