The Revolution of Birdie Randolph


By Brandy Colbert

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From Stonewall Award winner Brandy Colbert comes a novel about first love, family, and hidden secrets that will stay with you long after turning the last page.

Dove "Birdie" Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she's on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past… whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family's apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded — she's also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she's known to be true is turned upside down.


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Actually, it’s the stoop of my mother’s hair salon. We live in the apartment upstairs. But my mom and Ayanna make their clients go down the street to smoke—none of them would ever sit right here in front of the door.

Maybe she just needs a place to sit. This is Chicago. We’re in Logan Square, near the California Blue Line stop—people are walking by constantly.

She takes a drag just as she notices me standing a few feet away, watching her. She exhales and smiles and lifts her hand in greeting. I give her a tight smile—this is Chicago—and quickly squeeze past her on the stoop, shutting the door to our stairway firmly behind me.

I’m in the kitchen getting a drink of water when I hear footsteps on the stairs and, a few moments later, the front door opening. It’s too early for my father to be home. I guess Mom needed to run up for something.


I freeze. That’s not my mother. How could I have forgotten to lock the front door?

And then I turn around and see the woman from the stoop standing in the doorway, and I drop my glass. It shatters at my feet. Water splashes over my ankles and the tops of my school loafers. I back up, pressing myself against the kitchen sink. I don’t look at it, but I’m very aware that my hand is within reach of the knife block.

“Oh.” She takes in my frightened face. Holds up her hands. “It’s okay. You’re Dove, right? I’m Carlene.”

I stare at her, wondering if my mother would be able to hear me scream downstairs over the music and blow-dryers and incessant chatter of the shop. How does this woman know my name?

“I’m your aunt.”

I frown and then my mouth drops open as I remember that my mother has a sister. She’s her only sibling, and I haven’t seen her in so long I’d forgotten I have an aunt on that side. Mom doesn’t talk about her much. Never, really.

“Aunt Carlene?”

She smiles, and I wonder if I’ll see my mother in it, but I don’t. Thick, black Marley twists hang past my aunt’s shoulders. Her eyes are tired but friendly. “Remember me?”

“Um… just barely.”

Her smile fades a little. “Well, it’s been a long time. You’ve grown so much,” she says almost wondrously, her eyes roaming over me as if she’s trying to match the Dove she used to know with the one standing in front of her.

I want to ask her exactly how long it’s been, but something in her eyes tells me not to. Instead, I say, “I’m sixteen. I only have two more days left of sophomore year.”

My hands are still clenched into fists, even though I’m pretty sure she is who she says she is.

“I know.” She takes a couple of steps forward so she’s standing fully in the kitchen. The cigarette smoke clings to her clothes or her fingers or maybe both, and it’s not a good smell, but I try to pretend like it doesn’t bother me. “Seventeen next February, right?”

“Right.” I smile back at her, but I’m surprised she remembers. I didn’t think she knew any more about me than I know about her, which is pretty much nothing. “Are you visiting for a while?”

“I am.” She pauses then says, “I don’t know how long. But I’m hoping your mother will let me work in the salon while I’m here.”

“You know how to do hair?”

“Girl, who do you think taught your mama?”

Just then, I hear feet on the stairs again: thundering up. The front door bursts open and then my mother’s voice: “Birdie?”

“Birdie?” my aunt echoes.

“We’re in the kitchen,” I call back. Then, to Aunt Carlene, “That’s her nickname for me. You know… a play on the whole Dove thing.”

Mom stops abruptly in the doorway.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, staring at the worry lines etched into her forehead.

“Nothing.” She lets out a long breath as she looks back and forth between us. “I was just—it’s been a while since you’ve seen Carlene, so I wanted to make sure everything is okay.” Then she spies the broken glass in front of my feet. “What happened?”

“I wasn’t expecting anyone to come in and… I got freaked out.”

Mom presses her lips together as she heads across the room to grab the broom and dustpan. “I wanted to let you know before you got home, but Carlene showed up unannounced in the middle of an appointment. I couldn’t get away.”

“It’s a broken glass,” Aunt Carlene says, raising an eyebrow. “Nobody died.”

She tries to take the broom from my mother, but Mom shakes her head and motions for me to get out of the way as she sweeps up the wet shards.

I don’t think they’ve seen each other in years, either, but they don’t look so happy to be reunited. They’re not close; maybe my aunt doesn’t know her well enough to understand how much Mom values planning and order.

“Don’t walk barefoot in here for a while,” my mother says after crouching to make sure she’s gotten every piece that she can see. She tosses the broken glass into the trash can and leans the broom against the wall. She looks at Aunt Carlene. “I also wanted to make sure you’re settling in okay. Should I have Raymond stop anywhere on the way home?”

“I’m settling in just fine. I don’t need anything,” Aunt Carlene says. “I’m actually going to lie down for a while—I had a long day on the train.”

My mother’s lips are still pursed, but some of the tension leaves her body. “We’ll wake you for dinner.”

“Wake me up in time to help,” my aunt says over her shoulder.

I get a fresh glass from the cupboard and pour more water, then sit down at the kitchen table. Once the door to Mimi’s room clicks closed, Mom joins me.

She sighs, running a hand over her twistout. “I didn’t know she was coming.”

“Yeah, I kind of gathered that.” I watch her. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine, Birdie. Just tired.” She pats my hand. “You okay with her staying here for a while?”

“Sure.” I shrug. “I don’t remember her at all, but she seems okay. And Mimi’s not coming home this summer, right?”

“Right. Okay. Good.” Mom smiles.

“She’s going to work in the shop?”

“We could use another braider, but she has to be licensed, and that takes a lot of hours. I don’t know if she’ll be here that long.”

“She said she taught you everything you know about hair.”

Mom’s face drops so fast it makes me laugh. “Oh, she did? We’ll see how much she remembers after—”

“What?” I prompt her.

She shakes her head. “Nothing. She’s just been out of the game for a while.”



“Are you okay with her being here?”

“Carlene is family,” she says in a voice that doesn’t match her face. “Of course I am.”

My father comes home loaded down with bags of Thai takeout and a tired smile. He’s a team physician for the Chicago Bulls, but his main job is at Rush University, where he sees regular patients for sports medicine. He is always busy and always tired, but he tries to be around as much as he can be.

I’m in the living room, texting with Booker. At least I don’t have to pretend to have my nose stuck in a textbook every second of the evening now that final exams are over. There was plenty of studying over the past few weeks, but there was plenty of texting Booker Stratton in between.

I set my phone facedown on the couch and hop up to kiss Dad on the cheek. “Did you get lard nar?”

“I even got extra tonight since you ate it all last time.”

“Not my fault you and Mom are slow eaters.”

He shakes his head, laughing as he carries the bags into the kitchen.

My phone buzzes. I keep expecting this delicious, warm feeling to go away the more I hear from Booker, but the truth is that it only increases. Mitchell never made me feel this way, and we were together for a year and a half.

When can I see you again?

I pause, my fingers hovering over the phone as I think about this. It was easy to push away the question when I was in the thick of finals. Or even before that, since I go to a pretty demanding private school; academics take up the majority of my time during the year. But summer approaching means even more parties are approaching, and I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to escape the fact that my parents have my whole life planned out for me.

Maybe this weekend?

I don’t admit that the only way Mom and Dad will let me go out with him is if I introduce him first. I don’t know if either of us is ready for that yet.

The smell of Thai food floats into the living room, making my mouth water. I tell Booker I’ll text him later and head into the kitchen to help unpack the bags.

My parents are talking in low tones, their words sharp and pointed at the edges. Dad is pulling cartons from one of the bags, and I don’t even know how it’s possible for them to already be having such an involved conversation.

They stop as soon as I walk into the room. Mom looks over and smiles. “I was just telling your father he got so much food we’ll be eating leftovers for weeks.”

She clearly was doing nothing of the sort, but I’m too confused to challenge her. My parents rarely argue, and when they do, it’s behind closed doors, after they think I’ve fallen asleep.

“Well, we have company,” Dad says. “Gotta make sure everyone has enough to eat.”

I glance toward the hallway. “Should I go wake Aunt Carlene?”

“No, sweetie, I’ll get her,” Mom says. “You help your dad.”

It takes an extraordinarily long time for my mother to get my aunt. We’ve unpacked all the food and set the dining room table, and I’m grabbing the pitcher of water by the time they walk into the kitchen.

Aunt Carlene smiles at me before her eyes shift to my father, who is washing his hands at the sink. “Hi, Ray.”

He takes a moment to turn around, and when he does, there’s a strange look on his face. Almost like he’s seen a ghost. Which doesn’t make sense; he knew she was here. “Carlene. It’s been a real long time.”

“Indeed. You look good, Ray.”

“You too.” But it sounds like someone forced him to say it. I’m starting to wonder if anyone besides me is actually okay with my aunt staying here.

She looks over his shoulder at the food. “Chinese?”


“Oh, I love Thai food.”

“Good,” Mom says. “Eat up. We have enough to feed the whole block.”

Aunt Carlene asks a lot of questions at dinner, but only to me. I end up talking the most, which I guess is okay because my parents are so quiet it’s unnerving.

“What are you up to this summer, Dove? Hanging with your friends?”

“A little bit, I guess.”

She frowns. “What else is summer for?”

“I’m taking some college prep courses,” I say, avoiding my mother’s eyes. “And working at the shop some.”

“That sounds… structured,” my aunt says, her eyes landing right on my mother.

“I like being at the shop.” And then I shove noodles and chicken into my mouth so I won’t be tempted to say what I really think about the college prep courses.

“Birdie is focused,” Mom says. “Both our girls are.”

Aunt Carlene takes a sip of water. “Focused is good. Lord knows our mother wouldn’t stand for anything else. Which is why we fought like we did.” She looks off into the distance, as if she’s remembering scenes from her childhood. Then she looks at me. “You know, Dove, your mother was always the overachiever. I didn’t stand a chance.”

“I suppose I always thought overachieving was better than the alternative.”

Even my father, who has barely said a word since we sat down and seems lost in his own world, looks in surprise at my mother. That sentence had claws.

Mom glances at us and exhales loudly. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”

But she doesn’t even look at her sister when she apologizes. Aunt Carlene stares down at her food.

I glance around the table as we finish the meal in silence, but their faces give away nothing. It’s times like this that I really miss my sister. I’m still not used to navigating this family stuff alone.

I like to text Booker before I go to sleep.

I like having someone to say good night to after my parents, and remembering his texts as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. I like knowing someone is thinking of me before they drift off, too.

Tonight, I get under the covers and text him as usual, but I wonder if I should be listening at my parents’ bedroom door. Maybe I’d hear the telltale murmurs of a disagreement—some clue as to what was really going on at dinner. He texts back:

Don’t know if I can wait much longer to see you

My cheeks flush with heat. We’ve kissed only a couple of times, but I remember it well, the feeling of Booker’s thick, soft lips on mine. One hand cupped around my face, the other palm pressed to the brick wall of Laz’s building behind me.

I think you have to? No going out on school nights over here

There’s a knock at my door just as his next message comes through:

You could always sneak out

“Come in.” I shove the phone under my pillow.

My mother closes the door behind her and perches on the edge of the bed next to me. “I can’t believe my baby is finishing her sophomore year in a couple of days. And that you’ll be taking the SATs in a few months!”

“Me either,” I say.

Mimi has done everything before me, so I know what my life is supposed to look like. I’m supposed to graduate at the top of my class and go to a good college where I will study something respectable that will get me an impressive, high-paying job. But it’s still weird to be doing all the things I watched her do, as if I never really thought they’d happen to me.

“I know it’ll be a busy one, but are you looking forward to the summer?”

“Mom.” I don’t like small talk in general, and I especially don’t like it with my mother. Also, we said good night earlier, so I’m not sure why she’s in here talking about my summer. “What’s going on?”

She takes a deep breath. Gives me an uncomfortable smile. “So we didn’t do a good job of pretending everything is normal?”

“Uh, not quite.”

My mother plays with her wedding ring, twisting it around and around her finger. “There’s no graceful way to say this.… Your aunt is fresh off a stint in rehab. Her longest one yet.”

My eyebrows go up. “Rehab? For alcohol?”

“For… a lot of things.” She pauses. “I don’t feel comfortable telling Carlene’s story for her, but I didn’t want you to be in the dark since she’s staying here.”

“Is that why I haven’t seen her in so many years?”

Mom nods.

“How long? Since I’ve seen her?”

“You would’ve been young… really young,” my mother says, looking down at her hands.

“You said ‘her longest one yet.’ How many times has she been in and out of rehab?”

“I’m not sure, Birdie. She’s been dealing with substance abuse issues for a while.”

“How long?” I feel like a broken record.

Mom pauses and doesn’t look at me when she says, “Since she was your age.”

I didn’t know anyone in our family had addiction issues. Isn’t that supposed to run in families? My parents aren’t big drinkers, but they often have a glass of wine with dinner or to relax afterward. And my father always has a beer with his Thai food. Except I remember that he didn’t tonight.

I don’t drink. Like my mother, my ex-boyfriend, Mitchell, didn’t like parties, so we never went to any—not the ones thrown by kids at our school nor at Laz’s. Mitchell always said we were too smart to hang out with people who deliberately got wasted on the weekends, and I never challenged him because it was easier to stay quiet.

“Like I said, it’s not my place to tell her story,” Mom says, and I wonder if my emotions are cycling across my face as rapidly as they’re traveling through my head. “But you’re old enough to know.”

I nod. And I’m secretly pleased that my mother thinks I’m old enough to be let in on what has been a family secret up until now. I wonder if Mimi knows. The part of me that never gets to experience anything first takes pleasure in maybe knowing before her, but I doubt that’s the case. Mimi knows everything.

Mom kisses me good night for the second time this evening and closes the door softly behind her.

I turn off my lamp and close my eyes, but I’m not tired at all. Especially not now. I can’t get my mother’s tone out of my head. She was trying to sound neutral, but it landed somewhere between judgmental and disappointed. If she feels that way about her own sister, how would she feel if I told her about Booker? All about him. As much as I’ve tried to tell myself she might surprise me, I don’t think she would.

So I can’t say anything. Not yet.

I look at my phone to see if he’s texted again, but he hasn’t. His last message is still there on the lock screen, marked as unread.

You could always sneak out

I don’t want to leave him hanging until tomorrow. But I don’t want to say the wrong thing. If I keep giving excuses for why I can’t meet up with him, he might stop asking to see me.

I take a deep breath, type as fast as I can, and send the text before I can think too much about it:

How about tomorrow?

THE PERSON WHO KNOWS ME BEST IN THIS WORLD IS MIMI, BUT SINCE SHE’S my sister, that’s always seemed like a bit of a default. Of course we don’t have to be close just because we’re related—my mom and Aunt Carlene are proof of that—but it’s always been easier to work with her than against her.

There was a noticeable gap in my life when Mimi went away to school in Wisconsin just before I started my freshman year. We still text and video chat, and e-mail sometimes, too—but it’s not the same as having her here every day. We didn’t even get to be at high school together.

Thank god for Laz. He’s the one I choose to let know me best, and I don’t know what I’d do without him. We’ve been best friends since second grade when his mom, Ayanna, went into business with my mother to open the hair salon. They met in cosmetology school and became fast friends, both working at other salons for a few years before they decided to take the plunge and go into business for themselves. Laz and I circled each other curiously the first couple of times we were both at the salon, and after we got over our shyness, we could barely stand to be apart.

He goes to another school, so we only get to see each other on weekends and afternoons sometimes. Laz is on the water polo team, which always takes up a lot of his spring semester. Stowing our books and breaking from practice is always the sign that summer has officially begun. And it means that we finally get to see each other when we want to during the week.

I text him the morning after my aunt arrives to tell him I need his help seeing Booker.

He takes a while to respond. I picture him emerging from his crumpled bedsheets, blackout shades blocking the sun so the phone’s glow is the only light in his room.

Tell me what you need to me to do

Too tired to think

I tell him I want to sneak out and need to say that I’m with him. I finish making my bed as I wait for him to wake up, pulling the sheets tight over the mattress and fluffing the pillows like I’ve been doing every morning since I can remember.

Can’t wait till this weekend? Easier for you to get out then

I slip on my loafers and hook my bookbag over my shoulder as I text him back:

I can’t wait

There’s a long pause before his next text, and I tap my foot against the rug, hoping Laz isn’t falling back to sleep. He likes Booker, but I don’t think he ever expected us to get involved. I know he didn’t. He’s introduced me to lots of his friends and I’ve never been interested in any of them. Even after Mitchell broke up with me a few months ago, I didn’t think I’d meet anyone new. Not so soon, anyway. Maybe it’s more that I couldn’t trust myself to know what I really wanted. I thought I wanted Mitchell for the year and a half we were together, but now I think maybe I just liked the way we looked on paper. Or maybe I liked the idea of someone who told me they wanted me, even if his actions didn’t always match his words.

K, let me know what our fake plans are

I never do things like this, and I can’t believe how good it feels.

I smile so big that my mother asks why I’m so happy when I head out to school.

The day is long and uneventful, and I’m counting down the minutes until I can see Booker as I sit down to dinner.

We decided to meet at the library. It’s foolproof. Laz and I study together sometimes, and it’s a place my parents are comfortable letting me go by myself at night. But that excuse won’t work this summer. Not even people who are great at school want to spend time studying when it’s out of session. Not even those of us who happen to be enrolled in SAT prep courses.

I saw my aunt at breakfast this morning and I braced myself for another awkward meal, but my father had already left for work and my mother seemed more relaxed than last night. Maybe she’s getting used to Aunt Carlene being here. Mom made her eggs, and when she set the plate in front of her sister, my aunt looked up with raised eyebrows and said, “Just the way I like them.” Mom shrugged and said, “Who else likes their eggs so runny?” But there was a comfort between them that put me at ease.

My aunt is nowhere to be found when dinner is served, though. I wonder if this will please Mom, but she is anxious again. Maybe more so than when Aunt Carlene arrived unannounced. She keeps tapping the tines of her fork against her plate absentmindedly, barely touching her pasta.

When Dad is halfway through his meal, he gets up and goes to the fridge and pulls out a beer. Mom doesn’t notice until he sits back down, and I don’t miss the sharp look she gives him.

“Raymond, we talked about this.”

His fingers are squeezed around the bottle cap, but he doesn’t open it. “She’s not here. And what difference does it make? The beer has been in there since last night. She’s the sober one, Kitty, not me.”

It’s always been strange to me that my mother goes by the name Kitty. She’s the only person who calls me Birdie, but everyone calls her Kitty. Short for Katrina, which I guess makes sense. Still, she’s too serious to have such a cutesy nickname.

I take a drink of water, and both their eyes slide to me. Now that I’m old enough to know this sort of business, I wonder if they’ll keep talking. I wonder if I will be around when my mother proposes to no longer keep alcohol in the house, because I’m pretty sure that’s where this is headed. And I’m pretty sure my father is going to put up a fight.

She changes the subject. “Where is it you’re going with Laz tonight, Birdie?”

“Just the library.”

“Extra credit?” She frowns, running over her mental snapshot of my calendar, color-coded by classes. Which is front and center on the fridge, just in case she forgets.

“No, I’ve turned in everything. But Laz has two more weeks. He has to study for exams and I figured I’d help him, since I’m still technically in school.”

“That’s nice of you,” she says. Approvingly, but not surprised.

Across the table, Dad pops the top on his beer with a fizz.

I change out of my school uniform after dinner. I want to look good for Booker, but I don’t want to dress too nicely since I’m supposed to be meeting Laz. Mom already seems on high alert with Aunt Carlene—I don’t want to give her a reason to start watching me, too.

I decide on a gray sundress with pink and white flowers, and cover my shoulders with my denim jacket. My aunt still isn’t home when I kiss my mother goodbye, and I can tell she’s starting to get worried.

At the station, I walk to the far end of the train platform, and when the “L” arrives, I get into the first car, just like my mom always tells me to do if I’m riding alone. She says at least that way I’m as close to the conductor as possible if something goes wrong. The car is nearly empty when I get on.


  • Praise for The Revolution of Birdie Randolph:

    A Chicago Public Library Best Teen Fiction of 2019 Pick
    An ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick
    An ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Pick

    *"Colbert's latest novel brilliantly delves into first loves, forbidden romance, rebellion, and family expectations-all of which teens will strongly relate to."—Booklist, starred review

  • *"The Revolution of Birdie Randolph crescendos with an unexpected, masterful plot twist and an extremely satisfying ending."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

  • *"...this thrilling tale of first love explores what it means to be held to an impossible standard and still learn to live an authentic life."—Publisher's Weekly, starred review

  • "A beautiful and necessary read."—Buzzfeed

  • "...the book may actually help struggling teens realize that they are not alone in whatever hardships they may face."

    School Library Connection
  • "A great addition to teen collections everywhere."—School Library Journal

  • " emotionally gripping tale about family and young love and how they can be your entire world while still being worlds apart."—Kirkus

  • "There are few authors in contemporary YA today who write with Colbert's quiet power and nuance, and her fourth novel is a perfect example."—Barnes & Noble Teen Blog

  • "..touching and uplifting."—Entertainment Weekly

  • "A beautiful and necessary read."—Buzzfeed

  • Praise for Finding Yvonne:

    "Brandy Colbert has crafted a meaningful and masterful book that explores all of the different ways that we can surprise ourselves. Yvonne's path through family ties, hidden talents, and difficult decisions reveals the hard-won truth of an unforgettable character. I loved this book."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Times}Robin Benway, National Book Award Winner and New York Times bestselling author of Far from the Tree

  • "...thoughtful coming-of-age story..."—VOYA

  • "A pitch-perfect song of a book about all the ways a heart can break and mend, Finding Yvonne will stay with you long past its final, bittersweet notes."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Times}Elana K. Arnold, author of National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of

  • Praise for Little & Lion:

    "Little and Lion is beautifully insightful, honest, and compassionate. Brandy's ability to find larger meaning in small moments is nothing short of dazzling."—National Book Award Finalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon
  • "Brandy Colbert further establishes herself as one of contemporary YA's biggest talents in this thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of identity, loyalty, and what it means to live with integrity. Little & Lion is a stunningly good novel."—Kiersten White, New York Times bestselling author of And I Darken

  • "Brandy Colbert takes us on an emotional and gorgeous journey with a protagonist who is trying to figure out where she fits in with her family as well as in the world. A book full of overwhelming love and courage."—Sara Farizan, author of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

  • * "This superbly written novel teems with meaningful depth, which is perfectly balanced by romance and the languorous freedom of summer."—Booklist, starred review

  • * "A moving, diverse exploration of the challenges of growing up and the complicated nature of loyalty."—School Library Journal, starred review

  • * "Colbert sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity.... A vibrantly depicted Los Angeles."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

  • * "From the threads of love and romance, to redefining family life, readers of all walks of life will find an entry point to this title."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

  • "A moving and well-realized examination of secrecy, trust, and intimacy."—Publishers Weekly

  • " Hand [Little & Lion] to readers who like thoughtful, edgy stories with no easy answers."—VOYA

  • "With compelling honesty, Colbert portrays Suzette's evolving understanding of her sexuality, Lionel's longing for self-sufficiency alongside the challenges of his mental illness, and the difficulty of shifting familial relationships."—Horn Book

On Sale
Aug 18, 2020
Page Count
352 pages