Author Nancy Schoellkopf pitches this novel as a love story, spiritual journey, and endeavor to look beyond the superficial to the human heart’s guidance. Protagonist Samantha O’Malley dreams about the titular yellow-billed magpies, rare in California’s Central Valley unlike their black-billed relatives, which symbolizes her calling. She’s in a bit of a rut in her life, given failed fertility treatments not to mention her aborted marriage, returning to her hometown to resume her teaching career in special education and hook up with one of her former lovers, further befriending school custodian Craig, with whom she works with special education students, and to whom she presumably dedicates the story.
The book proper opens with Samantha in the middle of an annulment with her husband Tom, while mulling her relationships with other men, Craig and Charlie. Throughout the book she has various dreams in which she is an animal, including a jaguar, polar bear, giraffe, and a whale, during which she sees a yellow-billed magpie, reveries that somewhat signify her transformation and experiences during the narrative. She ultimately goes back into her old profession of teaching special education, and forms a relationship with one of her silent students, Luisa, whom she nicknames Luisa, and with whom she attempts facilitated communication, a technique for instructing students with various cognitive conditions such as autism.
Several events towards the end of the story throw Samantha a curveball that she must overcome to achieve happiness, with some twists towards the end as well. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable story, with this reviewer, who has had a lifetime diagnosis of autism, very well comprehending the difficulty of teachers dealing with students that bear the condition, and himself was a troubled student in all grades in both special and general education courses. The animalian symbolism fits well into the narrative as well, with this reviewer ultimately giving his blessing to the book and very easily recommending it especially to those who have had experience in special education and understand the various questions it poses.
Nancy Schoellkopf has been telling stories and writing poems for many lifetimes. It goes without saying she’s needed a second income, so this time around she happily taught amazing children in special education classes in two urban school districts in Sacramento, California. A full time writer now, she enjoys lavishing attention on her cat, her garden and her intriguing circle of family and friends.