Let me begin by admitting that I did not intend to read Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien. I'd never heard of it. It didn't come recommended; I hadn't even seen a review or anything. It was a total impulse buy. Allow me to also admit that I have a thing for owls, even though they are not what they seem. I walked past Ms. O'Brien's book and I made that sound that people make when something completely adorable catches them by surprise. The cover is a picture of Wesley as an owlet, cute, white, fuzzy, with a little heart outlining his face. I couldn't get it home and read it fast enough.
I can't say that I am particularly interested in reading someone's tale about their dog or cat, my apologies to Marley and Mittens. But reading about someone who raised an owl, well, that's just cool. Ms. O'Brien gives us a sweet and funny tale of life with an unusual pet indeed. As an assistant in the owl labs at Caltech, O'Brien adopted Wesley when he was four days old. Born with nerve damage to one of his wings, Wesley needed a human home or he would perish. So O'Brien took him home, on Valentine's Day. But she doesn't view Wesley as just a pet. Wesley ? a barn owl ? is a majestic soul, one to be cherished and understood. O'Brien feels as if she has been given a wondrous gift of great importance, a gift to teach and heal her, a gift to complete her.
O'Brien tells her story with spunky little tales of life with Wesley, but also peppers the book with an interesting look inside Caltech. She has enough sparkling facts about owls to make it a very balanced read. She pulls at your heart ? Wesley finds his cuddle spot on Stacey's arm and that's “his” spot for the next 19 years. She makes you laugh ? turns out Wesley is a water bird and makes a huge ruckus in the bathroom until she fills the tub, then he pounces around making little happy noises. She also makes you wince ? Wesley needs a constant and steady diet of mice and Ms. O'Brien becomes very deft at “preparing” mice for Wesley to eat. It's fun and genuine and sometimes that's all one needs in a book.
The one bad thing about reading animal memoirs is that?well?the author lived to tell the tale while their loving subject has passed on. The good thing about this is that we too grieve and heal our own lost animal friends. I read Wesley the Owl about six weeks after my dog died. O'Brien is so poised at finding the good in all situations that my own grief was eased simply by reading her words. O'Brien wrote all of things I was feeling, all of the questions I had, and some of the guilt I felt. It was like a friend reaching out and comforting me. I feel like I owe her one.
O'Brien extends so much of herself throughout this book that it's hard not to love her, and of course Wesley. She loses boyfriends and apartments due to Wesley, but never once does she think about giving him up. She deals with tragedies external and personal. She takes every experience as a new and lovely thing, even if it means that her soul mate, her one true love, is an owl; and this too she will eventually lose.