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Review: Flyaway by Helen Landalf

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
5 Stars: An Incredible Read
Hardcover: 176 Pages
Publication: December 20, 2011 by Harcourt Children's Books

Fifteen-year-old Stevie Calhoun is used to taking care of herself. But one night, her mom, who works as an exotic dancer in a downtown Seattle nightclub, never comes home.

That’s the night Stevie’s life turns upside down.

It’s the night that kicks off an extraordinary summer: the summer Stevie has to stay with her annoyingly perfect Aunt Mindy; the summer she learns to care for injured and abandoned birds; the summer she gets to know Alan, the meanest guy in high school.

But most of all, it’s the summer she finds out the truth about Mom.

Flyaway is the story of a teen girl’s struggle to hold on to what she’s always believed, even as her world spins out of control.

Flyaway is the story of Stevie Calhoun as she struggles with her mother’s addiction to meth and her growing sense of what is right. It’s always been Stevie and her mom. While the rest of the world strives in vain for Barbie looks and/or is out to get them, Stevie and her mom eat fast food and buy cool outfits from the thrift shop, and Stevie’s mom encourages her not to be tied down by society. It’s clear from the beginning that Stevie idolizes her mom. However, her mom has been missing for a couple days now, and her aunt Mindy threatens to call childcare if Stevie doesn’t come live with her.

Initially, Stevie resents her perfect aunt, and it’s perfectly understandable. Not only does Aunt Mindy take control of Stevie’s life, she can’t say anything nice about Stevie’s mother, aka her own sister. Mindy often speaks to Stevie without considering Stevie’s feelings, such as her suspicions that her sister addicted to crystal meth even though she has no evidence.

Stevie will frustrate you because of her unwillingness to accept that she can make a home without her mother. However, Landalf does a wonderful job of portraying Stevie’s emotions so that you empathize with what she’s going through. While I recognized that Aunt Mindy only wants the best for Stevie, I couldn’t help hating her for ‘assuming’ (rightfully) that she knew what Stevie needed. Aunt Mindy hasn’t had much experience raising a child, and Stevie hates anyone who talks against her mom. At first, the two of them try to move at their own pace without regard for the other’s feelings, but over time you can see a new family form.

I loved how On the Wing both provides Stevie a place of refuge as well as a unique setting in the story. A place for birds to recuperate before being released back into the wild, it’s where Stevie can escape the confusing events taking place around her. It’s also where she grows closer to Alan, a boy with a bad reputation and yet who’s gentle around birds, and to understanding how she wants to live her life. In a way, the birds represent the two of them, struggling to escape their problems before they get hurt.

While Stevie’s mother has a large negative impact on her life, this is not a story of the breaking relationship between a girl and her mother. It’s a story of healing and learning to recognize true love in a person’s actions, not the words she says to appease you. Flyaway explores the story of a teenage girl trying to find a place in the world while going through the denial that her mother is a drug addict. I recommend Flyaway to those looking for a contemporary read that looks into the influence of drugs in the lives of teenagers and yet possesses a strong, clear voice that doesn’t lose hope in the darker themes found in this book. Flyaway will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on December 19, 2011.

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An ARC was provided for review purposes by the publisher.
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