LEARNING TO FLY

Seventeen-year-old Jason is having a hard time adjusting to life as a new Chinese immigrant in a small Ontario town. His parents have split, and he must work long hours in his mom’s deli to help out. Lonely and disenfranchised, he’s made no friends, save the potheads he gets stoned with, and is often the butt of school bullies’ jokes. Then he meets Chief, a First Nations teen whose life is much harder than his own. When Jason is arrested for marijuana possession while making a buy from his dealer and Chief’s sister dies from an overdose, the two loners lean on each other to make it through. Like other Orca Soundings titles, this novel discusses high-interest topics like drug use, racism and bullying at a comprehension level that is comfortable for reluctant readers. Yee, the author of several works for teen readers, employs a spare writing style that is well suited to this format. Interested readers may also enjoy his similarly themed short-story collection What Happened This Summer (2006). (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-55143-955-6

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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WHIRLIGIG

At once serious and playful, this tale of a teenager’s penitential journey to four corners of the country can be read on several levels. While attempting to kill himself on the highway after a humiliating social failure, Brent causes a fatal accident for another motorist, Lea Zamora. His sentence requires a personal act of atonement, if the victim’s family so desires; Lea’s mother hands him a bus pass and tells him to place pictorial whirligigs in Maine, Florida, Washington, and California as monuments to her daughter’s ability to make people smile. Brent sets out willingly, armed with plywood, new tools, and an old construction manual. Characteristically of Fleischman (Seedfolks, 1997, etc.), the narrative structure is unconventional: Among the chapters in which Brent constructs and places the contraptions are independent short stories that feature the whirligigs, playing significant roles in the lives of others. Brent encounters a variety of travelers and new thoughts on the road, and by the end has lost much of the sense of isolation that made his earlier aspirations to be one of the in-crowd so important. The economy of language and sustained intensity of feeling are as strongly reminiscent of Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May (1992) as are the wind toys and, at least in part, the theme, but Fleischman’s cast and mood are more varied, sometimes even comic, and it’s Brent’s long physical journey, paralleled by his inner one, that teaches him to look at the world and himself with new eyes. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-5582-7

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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TIES THAT BIND, TIES THAT BREAK

Namioka (Den of the White Fox, 1997, etc.) offers readers a glimpse of the ritual of foot-binding, and a surprising heroine whose life is determined by her rejection of that ritual. Ailin is spirited—her family thinks uncontrollable—even at age five, in her family’s compound in China in 1911, she doesn’t want to have her feet bound, especially after Second Sister shows Ailin her own bound feet and tells her how much it hurts. Ailin can see already how bound feet will restrict her movements, and prevent her from running and playing. Her father takes the revolutionary step of permitting her to leave her feet alone, even though the family of Ailin’s betrothed then breaks off the engagement. Ailin goes to the missionary school and learns English; when her father dies and her uncle cuts off funds for tuition, she leaves her family to become a nanny for an American missionary couple’s children. She learns all the daily household chores that were done by servants in her own home, and finds herself, painfully, cut off from her own culture and separate from the Americans. At 16, she decides to go with the missionaries when they return to San Francisco, where she meets and marries another Chinese immigrant who starts his own restaurant. The metaphor of things bound and unbound is a ribbon winding through this vivid narrative; the story moves swiftly, while Ailin is a brave and engaging heroine whose difficult choices reflect her time and her gender. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-385-32666-1

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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