This is too weird. This afternoon I was failing my computer science test and now it’s all Attack of Dakota the Acid-Tongued Douchebag.
—Flying, by Carrie Jones
Seventeen-year-old Mana is a star on the cheerleading squad, though decidedly less stellar in the classroom. She’s not looking forward to her best friend Lyle going off to college next year—he’s a senior, she’s a junior—and she’s also wrestling with her changing feelings towards him, feelings that she hasn’t entirely admitted even to herself. She has a great relationship with her mousy-but-loving single mother, and while she sometimes feels like she stands out as one of the few teens of color in town—her mother is white and her father is Hawaiian—overall, life is boring-but-good in Milford, New Hampshire.
And then three things happen:
- She witnesses what seems to be an abduction, but turns out to be an alien attack.
- She discovers that she’s capable of physical feats that should not be humanly possible.
- Her mother disappears.
Flying is an action-comedy-romance that’s tailor-made to one day appear on the CW—in other words, it makes for perfect beach reading. Mana’s narration is chatty and funny, with lots of little details that make her, her life, and her friends more real (gauging how late at night it is by how bright the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling are; the silent communication/knowledge that comes from long-standing friendships), and there are loads of references to life in Northern New England that readers from here will recognize (including a cameo of the always-full parking lot of the NH liquor store on I-95).
The action scenes are cinematic and wonderfully chaotic: Mana employs loads of cheerleading and gymnastics moves, and the more life-threatening the situation, the more inclined she is to make jokes and go off on mental digressions. And speaking of the jokes, Mana’s slang is huge fun: for instance, she never uses the same euphemism for sex twice, sometimes using old standbys like “ride the baloney pony,” sometimes creating entirely new ones, like “roast the broomstick.” (Or new to this reader, at any rate.) Action-romance doesn’t always work, because it’s hard to buy the idea that two people who’ve just met wouldn’t be able to put their thoughts about the possibility of future sexytimes aside in order to, you know, focus on SAVING THE WORLD. But in this case, it all works really well because Mana and Lyle have known each other since they were children, and because they were tiptoeing around their attraction/connection to each other before their adventure even began.
It’s a world that acknowledges the existence of science fiction stories—Lyle is a huge SF and conspiracy buff, and there are moments in which he has to tamp down his excitement and joy that it is ALL REAL in order to be sensitive to the fact that Mana’s mother is missing, and possibly dead. In terms of worldbuilding, Jones uses aliens to explain various myths and legends, the existence of fae and leprechauns, as well as the Windigo. I’ve done some poking around, but really don’t have a solid enough base of knowledge to comment on whether or not putting the Windigo on the same level as leprechauns and the fae is problematic usage of an indigenous tradition—I’ll be watching to see what Native readers have to say about it.
While the overall tone is almost entirely light and boppy, there’s also some commentary about racism and sexism and the opposing facets of human nature: that we often lash out at what we fear, but that we also often have the desire to comfort and protect one another. And the larger implications of the politics behind the story—beyond Mana and her friends and their personal concerns, Flying introduces the idea that aliens and humans have been sharing/fighting over this planet for centuries—brings up issues of colonization, colonialism, and genocide. So, plenty of fun—lots and lots of jokes, a whole lot of punching and a little bit of smooching—but also an opportunity to think and talk about meatier topics.
As this is a series opener, I’m extremely curious to see where it goes in terms of plot and tone. Highly recommended for fans of Rachel Hawkins.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.