By: Jessica Hagedorn
Publication Date: December 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: February 4, 2011
A shy orange-winged Amazon parrot with a nervous twitch stands motionless on the center of his perch, in a room full of birds at a pet store. While other birds play and squawk, he does nothing but silently watch the customers walk by him. Brought to the store after his owner passed away, Benvolio (a.k.a. Ben) seems sad and alone. But that all changes the day Jessica Hagedorn walks into the store. Two souls in need of love and understanding, they have an instant connection.
Life With Ben is the touching story of how a plucky little parrot pulled his owner out from beneath the almost daily struggle with anxiety attacks. Heading off to college in the Fall of 2002, Jessica found herself with few friends and near constant worry about test scores and papers to write. Taking a hint from her grandfather, a former zookeeper, Jessica sought solace in animals. At first the young college student walked dogs at a nearby shelter, and then, at the suggestion of one of the college psychologists, Jessica headed off to a local pet store. The fish, hamsters, reptiles, rabbits and birds of all sorts helped Jessica deal with the stresses of college life.
As Jessica’s college career continued, so to did her visits to the pet store. During one visit, she noticed a green parrot sitting quietly in his cage, in sharp contrast to the boisterous birds all around him. “Something about his cautious yet dignified stance on the perch caught my attention, and I found myself kneeling on the tile floor next to his cage and talking softly to him.” (pg. 23)
While it might seem that Ben would come home with Jessica right away, Jessica first wanted to discover all she could about Amazon parrots. Learning about their demanding behaviors and their tendency to scream, she realized that bringing a parrot into her apartment was irresponsible. When her mother said that their house was also not going to be home to a screeching parrot, Jessica resigned herself to playing with the bird until he was sold.
Fortunately, no other customers were interested in Ben, and after spending months at the store, a blizzard and a loving mother come together to bring Ben into Jessica’s life.
The bulk of Life With Ben focuses on the bond that Jessica and Ben build as Jessica learns to live with a demanding, opinionated, but loving parrot. There is much humor in this book as Ben learns about his new home and dealing with things such as the family dog and cat. Always a clever little parrot, Ben liked to keep the household guessing at what his next action might be. For example, Ben seemed to sense Mrs. Hagerdorn’s fear of flying birds and one day swooped and hovered over her as she dropped to the floor. Leaving his owner in hysterics, he continued his silly ways and continued to wiggle himself into her heart. Ben also learned to get along with (sort of) Jack, the family’s little budgie and how to properly greet ants as they marched across the dining room floor.
Although this book tells the tale of Jessica’s love of Ben and their daily exploits, it is really the story of a young woman’s struggle with anxiety and depression and how a feathered friend rescued her. Never sad, the author doesn’t wallow in her misfortunes but rather looks for the positives in her life. While the writing is at times a bit clunky, ”Just like Ben, I did not deal well with change either…” (pg. 91), the story is well worth reading, particularly for those with a love for birds.
Quill says: Parrot owners will see their bird’s silly quirks in Ben while those considering life with a parrot would be well advised to read this book to see just what living with a parrot is really like.
For more information on Life with Ben: A Story of Friendship and Feathers, please visit the book's website at: www.lifewithben.com