February 05, 2014

TURNING PAGES: Flying With a Broken Wing, by Laura Best

I read this book in the middle of the Cybils hustle, and thought surely I'd reviewed it before now! Never mind - it's a beautifully clear and crisp winter morning, the perfect time to share a story which was a 2013 Cybils nomination in Young Adult fiction.

I love the cover of this book - the fact that it's a silhouette made of shadow is so evocative of the main character's two-dimensional life - part of the world of Tanner, but not having any agency, or any impact on it. Though her hands make a shadow bird, what human being can really up and fly away from the life they've been given to live? Can Cammie? Will she?


For American readers, this probably brings up a whole slew of imagery - Prohibition, speakeasies, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, gangsters and molls. Possibly your mind shifts toward your great-uncle Jethro's still. For Cammie Deveau, who lives in Nova Scotia just after WWII, bootlegging is ... hanging around on the edges of the kitchen when the booze-seeking crowd of "company" comes by. The sound of her Aunt Millie's screechy, raucous laughter when one of her "boyfriends" gets her a little tipple. Scrounging for change on the kitchen floor on a Saturday night in Tanner, Nova Scotia, population 206... and the belief that, unless she makes it happen, her life will never, never, ever change.

Cammie was born with bad eyes - so bad, that her Aunt Millie, who is raising her, doesn't bother sending her to school. Cammie is almost eleven, and she can't write, can't read, and though she sometimes plays with buttons to make believe they're change, she knows nothing about math or money -- she's solely reliant on her Aunt Millie, who shows her love in sarcasm and slaps, letting Cammie know just how big a burden she considers raising her to be. Cammie believes it, when Aunt Millie tells her that nobody wanted her around - not her mother, who dumped her with Millie, not her father, who'd managed to get himself killed in the War, and not her grandmother, who lives, rich and righteous, in the middle of Sheppard Square, and hadn't even claimed her. And why would she? Everyone in Tanner and Sheppard's Square have already formed their opinions of the two: Millie Turple, "no better than she should be", and Cammie Deveau, "poor little thing". But Cammie's not one to quietly accept anyone's opinion of her, or to feel too sorry for herself. Her stubborn will pushes her find a way to change her life, and change her luck.

Cammie finds a way to school - where she meets Miss Muise, who finds the funding for Cammie's first pair of glasses, and tells of a school in Halifax for kids just like her. At school, she also encounters the enigmatic Evelyn Merry, a boy whose strange name has taught him to be patient -- patient enough to befriend a girl who is nearly blind. Soon, Evelyn becomes the whole world to Cammie, no matter that Cammie's aunt says, "Stay away from that Merry boy!" With the courage brought on from finding her way in school, Cammie's will sends her to the cold, clean residence of her grandmother -- for answers. In a final bid to change both her life, and Evelyn's life for the better, Cammie's will carries she her farther than she's ever been -- and further than she ever intended to go. Readers are left with questions, as Cammie's story ends, but also with a story of sheer grit and determination, which will echo through them long after the last page.

Though Cammie is ten-eleven, this work of historical fiction will be better read by older middle graders, as Cammie is matter-of-fact about her life and where she's come from, and her Aunt Millie's life and livelihood. Best's detailed descriptions of class and rural life in 1950's Nova Scotia will allow readers to feel that they're right in the moment.

Poking around online for a cover shot, I found a book trailer! Check it out!

You can find FLYING WITH A BROKEN WING by Laura Best online, or at independent bookstores across North America!

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