Posts Tagged ‘coming of age’

Book Review: “The Summer I learned to Fly” by Dana Reinhardt

December 17th, 2011

After my “eh” review of The FitzOsbornes in Exile (which I liked but didn’t necessarily feel was award-winning) and my definitively negative review of The Big Crunch, you might be thinking that I’ve gotten into a negative rut and won’t ever be content with a YA nominee.

But that’s because I hadn’t yet reviewed Dana Reinhardt’s The Summer I learned to Fly.

Thirteen-year-old Birdie has great plans for the summer. She’ll work long hours in her mom’s cheese shop, helping Nick (her mom’s employee and her secret crush) make pasta. She’ll take care of her pet rat Hum and visit with her mom’s other employee Swoozie.

This was her family after all, an odd mix of employees from her Mom’s cheese shop. It wasn’t that Birdie doesn’t have friends–she enumerates all six friends she’s had throughout her life–it’s just that she’s always felt more like a “one”. And her current three friends are all gone at elite summer camps anyway. It’s a good thing she still has Hum and Nick and Swoozie and Mom.

Except that Nick gets himself a girlfriend (and has an accident), Mom starts hiding things, and Hum gets lost.

When Hum gets lost, Birdie bikes back to the shop to try to find him. There, she discovers that Mom isn’t at the shop late as she’d told Birdie. And she discovers Emmett Crane.

Emmett is hanging out by the dumpster feeding Hum some discarded cheese. He’s a skittish fellow who reveals little but nevertheless becomes something of a friend.

And so begins the summer she learned to fly.

Unlike much YA fiction, this is not a sensational story. It’s not a romance and doesn’t include sex. There’s no violence or otherwise aberrant behavior. Birdie’s family is unusual-ish, but not dysfunctional (her father died while she was very young and her Mom is not quite sure how to tell her 13 year old daughter that she’s now dating.) Birdie complains about her mother and occasionally rebels, but in the ordinary (at least ordinary for my highly-functional family) way. Even as she complains, Birdie still loves her mother–and the author does not portray the mother as being a tyrant or an out-of-the-loop oldie.

The Summer I learned to fly is a delightful, moving coming-of-age story–and one that I highly recommend. This one had better be on the short-list, cause it’s a definite winner.


Rating:5 Stars
Category:YA Fiction
Synopsis:Birdie learns about friendship, dreams, and believing in miracles the summer she meets a homeless boy behind her mother’s cheese shop.
Recommendation: A sweet, appropriately-told coming of age tale that’s one of my picks for the YA shortlist (if I were a judge, that is!)

Book Review: “What I saw and how I lied” by Judy Blundell

September 6th, 2011

Evie is fifteen, her stepfather has returned from the war, and life is good.

Okay, so they still live with her step-father’s mother, who doesn’t quite get along with Evie’s mother. So Evie’s step-father is drinking more. So Evie’s parents are fighting more often.

But Evie’s main concerns are that her mother won’t let her wear grown-up clothes and that she can’t seem to attract the attention of her crush.

Then her stepfather decides to take them on a vacation to Florida–and Evie meets (and falls in love with) the dashing young Peter (who had served with her stepfather in the War.)

Awash with the headiness of a new environment, new clothing (one of her mothers’ new friends insisted), and new love, Evie thinks of little but how she can next see Peter. Then a hurricane hits and Evie’s world comes crashing down.

I added What I saw and How I lied to my TBR list on the basis of Semicolon’s review (I think), but by the time I’d gotten around to picking it up from the library, I’d forgotten the review and had no idea what to expect. (Even if I’d read Semicolon’s review more recently, I’m not sure I’d have known what to expect. Sherry does a good job of not giving spoilers.)

At any rate, I read with only the book’s title to clue me in on what was happening–and that kept me guessing for a good long time.

I knew something was wrong, that something wasn’t adding up in Evie’s idyllic world–but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. What’s more, if Evie (the narrator of the book) had seen something, why wasn’t she telling me? What had she seen? And how had she lied?

I was almost upset with her for not sharing–but I kept reading in the hopes that she would at last reveal.

And reveal she did, with a punch that left me gasping for air.

Other reviewers have called this a coming-of-age novel, and that it is. It’s about a loss of innocence, a loss of trust. It’s also a story about stealing, lying, adultery, and murder. As my grandmother would say, it’s a story of sex and violence.

But a well-told story.

This is definitely not a children’s book. But the sex and violence found in this book is not the gratuitous or experimental raciness of a typical YA novel. It’s tasteful (mostly) and integral, contributing to Evie’s awakening to the world of lies and truth, deception and integrity, lust and love.

I very much enjoyed reading this novel and recommend it for discerning, mature readers.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: YA-Coming of Age Novel
Synopsis:Evie grows up rather quickly after a winter in Florida where she encounters lust, lies, deception, and discrimination.
Recommendation: I think thoughtful readers are likely to enjoy this, while those looking for either escapist or sensational fiction will be disappointed. I personally enjoyed it a great deal.

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