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When Mockingbirds Sing
by Billy Coffey

Published: 2013-06-11
Paperback : 336 pages
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What marks the boundary between a miracle from God and the imagination of a child?

Leah is a child from Away, isolated from her peers because of her stutter. But then she begins painting scenes that are epic in scope, brilliant in detail, and suffused with rich, prophetic imagery. When ...

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What marks the boundary between a miracle from God and the imagination of a child?

Leah is a child from Away, isolated from her peers because of her stutter. But then she begins painting scenes that are epic in scope, brilliant in detail, and suffused with rich, prophetic imagery. When the event foreshadowed in the first painting dramatically comes true, the town of Mattingly takes notice.

Leah attributes her ability to foretell the future to an invisible friend she calls the Rainbow Man. Some of the townsfolk are enchanted with her. Others fear her. But there is one thing they all agree on?there is no such thing as the Rainbow Man.

Her father, the town psychologist, is falling apart over his inability to heal his daughter . . . or fix his marriage. And the town minister is unraveled by the notion that a mere child with no formal training may be hearing from God more clearly than he does.

While the town bickers over what to do with this strange child, the content of Leah’s paintings grows darker. Still, Leah insists that the Rainbow Man’s heart is pure. But then a dramatic and tragic turn of events leaves the town reeling and places everyone’s lives in danger. Now the people of Mattingly face a single choice:

Will they cling to what they know . . . or embrace the things Leah believes in that cannot be seen?

“Billy Coffey is a minstrel who writes with intense depth of feeling and vibrant rich description.” ?Robert Whitlow, best-selling author of The Choice

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Seven Days Before the Carnival
In those long days between the town’s death and its rebirth,
everyone had a story of how the magic came to Leah
Norcross. Whether that magic was divine or deviltry, real
or imagined, hinged upon the teller. And though many declared
they had trusted all along, the fact was that in the beginning
no one believed but Leah and Allie, and not even they could
have known what that carnival week would hold. And as for
who was there when the magic first appeared, that would be
Leah’s father. Unfortunately, he was too busy worrying about
Leah’s birthday party to notice.
Tom Norcross shielded his eyes from the morning sun and
checked his watch. On the driveway to his left, three men
unloaded wooden chairs and a gleaming but dented popcorn
machine from two panel trucks with Celebration Time stenciled
in swollen red letters on the sides. Tom looked up as one
of the men passed him with an armload of chairs.
“Gonna be a hot one, Dr. Norcross. Shoulda ordered you
some shade along with all this stuff.”
Rick? Nick? Tom couldn’t remember the man’s name.

There were more pressing things to consider. He checked his
watch again—it was now 9:17, each tick of the second hand
was like a tiny exclamation point—and did his best to smile.
“Should have. And it’s just Tom. You can leave off the doctor
“Will do.”
The man—Tom decided it was Rick—joined the two
wheeling the popcorn machine and disappeared around the
corner. Tom fidgeted with his hat and reversed his course along
the sidewalk in front of his family’s new home. His eyes went
first to the twisting lane that led to the empty road below,
then through the open windows of the old Victorian. Ellen
was somewhere inside, probably pulling the tubs of ice cream
from the freezer or helping to set up the cake. She had been
awake for three hours, Leah long before that. Tom suspected
it was anticipation that had pushed his wife from bed so early
for a Saturday. He suspected it was that same expectation that
had awakened their daughter, though one tempered by a measure
of don’t-get-your-hopes-up.
But Tom’s hopes? Up. Because Barney Moore had a plan.
Of course that plan depended upon Barney’s timely arrival,
and if there was one thing Tom had learned in his two short
months of country living, it was that time carried little weight
in Mattingly.
He checked his watch again—9:30.
“He’ll be here.”
Ellen stood on the white wooden porch behind him. She’d
exchanged pajamas for faded jeans and a pink T-shirt that
accentuated her blond hair and blue eyes. Both reduced Tom
to a lovesick teenager despite the wariness she displayed. Or
perhaps because of it.
“Barney was supposed to be here an hour ago,” he told her.

“Yes.” She took a step closer, which Tom matched. “But
this was all Barney’s idea. He’ll be here. He probably just had
to be careful with Mabel.”
Under normal circumstances—normal being five years
ago more or less; Tom couldn’t remember when it all started,
though Ellen enjoyed reminding him how—a wife would take
that moment to offer some sort of physical bolstering. A hand
on the arm, a kiss on the cheek, a pat on the rear. Anything
besides the nothing Ellen gave. Tom didn’t think his wife realized
this and didn’t feel like broaching the subject. There
was Barney to worry about. Besides, pointing out what Ellen
wasn’t doing might prod her into mentioning that the touchyfeely
street ran both ways.
“Where’s Leah?” he asked.
“Out back overseeing the temporary amusement park you
had trucked in.”
The jibe was slight but still pricked. “Like you said,
Barney’s idea.”
Ellen said, “It was Barney’s idea to invite everyone. The
‘Deluxe Princess Birthday Package from Celebration time’
was yours.” She took another stride forward to the top step
but still didn’t descend. Her hands were on her hips. “You
can’t fix everything, Tom.”
He doffed his hat and rubbed the sweat from his brow.
Rick/Nick was right, it was going to be a hot one. Maybe hot
enough to keep everyone away.
Tom checked his watch again. “I just want today to be
“I know.” Ellen’s hands went from her hips to behind her
back in a posture Tom saw as one of trust. “I want today to be
perfect, too. Maybe too much. I’m sorry, Tom. Sometimes it’s
just hard. Truce?”

A rumble came from the east side of the street below.
They both looked, but the source of the sound was hidden
by the magnolias bordering both sides of the lane. An engine
popped and sputtered, sending a cloud of blue smoke above
the trees that was caught and then swirled in the hot breeze.
Finally, Barney Moore’s old green pickup appeared. It weaved
from one side of the lane and eased back into the middle.
Ellen smiled. “Told you. Take the world off your shoulders,
Dr. Norcross. Everything will be fine.”
“I’ll let you know in a couple hours.”
They shared a smile. Tom could not speak for his wife—
reading her gestures was one thing, reading her heart was sadly
another—but to him it felt warmer than even the summer sun
on his back.
“I’ll go get Leah,” he said.
Tom waved to Barney and followed the men with the tables
and chairs around the house, where the backyard’s three acres
affirmed that Ellen’s remark about the amusement park wasn’t
far off the mark. The Moon Bounce was finished. Per Tom’s
directions, it had been placed far enough from the tables and
chairs that the children’s play wouldn’t disrupt adult conversation.
The yellow-and-blue castle jiggled in the June breeze,
its puffy bottom inviting a multitude of tiny bare feet. The air
smelled of popcorn and flowers. Banjos and fiddles resonated
through two towering speakers between the Moon Bounce and
the tables. The deejay had been part of the Deluxe Princess
Birthday Package as well, but it was Barney who had chosen
the music. Not exactly Tom’s style, even if he couldn’t help
but drum his fingers against his jeans. Tied everywhere possible
were hundreds of balloons—red ones and orange ones and
green and blue. And yellow, yellow especially, Leah’s favorite
color. A banner hung between the two large maples by the
house. The pink and purple letters spelled out HAPPY 9TH
BIRTHDAY LE AH!! The Celebration time men placed their
tables next to ones already decorated with mounds of silverware
and glasses. Tom caught himself thinking there weren’t
enough people in the whole town to fill all those places.
He took the four steps from the stone path onto the back
porch, where the birthday girl sat atop a faded and chipped
picnic table that had come with the house. Leah peered out
toward the far edge of the yard where the white fence abutted
a small hill. Her yellow dress was tucked around her scrawny
legs like a cocoon. Small patches of sunburn on her face and
neck mingled with chalk-white skin. Not-quite-folded hands
rested in her lap. Her left thumbnail rubbed her right in short,
panicked strokes that matched her breathing.
“H-hey, Puh-Pops,” she said.
“Hey, Leah-boo.”
Tom sat beside her on the picnic table and smoothed out
a wrinkle in the hem of her dress. He knew the stutter would
be there (that birthday wish had sadly gone unfulfilled for the
last four years), but he had hoped it would at least remain at
the usual degree. Instead, what was usually manageable had
grown worse. It was the stress, of course. Too many things,
too many people.
“Whatcha doing?” he asked.
“Just wuh-watching,” she whispered.
Her eyes remained on the hill, where two shaggy pines
grew at awkward angles in a skewed, fairy-tale simplicity. The
hill had been Leah’s favorite place since the move. Tom had
considered trying his hand at building a playhouse up there for
her, though he thought Barney might be better suited for it.
“There’s luh-lots of s-stuff here, Puh-Pops.”
Tom placed a hand on Leah’s knee. Her thumbnails stopped
rubbing as one hand went over his. Her gaze never wavered.
Tom turned her thumb over and winced. The sight gave him
shivers despite the heat and broke his heart despite the happy
“I know you asked me not to do all this,” he said. “Couldn’t
help it, I guess. This is your day, and I love you.”
“You luh-love me t-oo much to duh-do what I ask,” Leah
said, then she pursed her lips and shook her head. “I m-mean
that guh-good, not b-bad. It’s all so p-pretty. It’d make for a
guh-good p-picture.”
A yellow balloon by the tables slipped free of its moorings.
It floated upward and stuck into one of the maples. Leah
didn’t seem to notice.
“Maybe later.”
She looked from the hill to Tom. “I’m scuh-scared no one
will c-come, Puh-Pops. No one wuh-will come and no one
wuh-will notice me.”
“I know.” Tom leaned over and kissed the top of his daughter’s
head. Her long black hair smelled of Ellen’s shampoo.
“But it’s your birthday, and your mom and I have something
special for you. Mr. Barney’s bringing it right now.”
Leah’s eyes went from woeful to bright. “Is Muh-Miss
Mabel w-with him?”
“She is. Want to come see?”
Her mouth tried to say yes but instead hung open in the
thick air. Leah didn’t have to say what she thought. Tom knew
“coming to see” wasn’t nearly as easy for her as it sounded, and
it sounded nearly impossible.
“Suh-sit with m-me for a minute, Puh-Pops?”
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

What is your favorite part of the novel?

Do you have a "Rainbow Man" experience?

Why do you think it's easier for children to have great faith?

Suggested by Members

What was the significance of the mockingbirds to this story?
by debbie1962 (see profile) 11/21/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

by debbie1962 (see profile) 11/21/13

Member Reviews

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  "When Mockingbirds sing"by Barbara H. (see profile) 02/24/17

  "Awesome!"by Deb G. (see profile) 11/21/13

Our group gave this a unanimous 5 stars! When we got to the end of the discussion questions in the back of the book, no one wanted to end the discussion. This book had so many layers, it was hard to... (read more)

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