Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flyaway by Helen Landaf

Stevie's only 15, but she's has been looking after her mom for a long time.  Sure, sometimes her mom disappears for days at a time, but Stevie knows how much her mother loves her.  Then Stevie's aunt Mindy gets involved, and Stevie's mom ends up in rehab for meth addicts and Stevie has to live with Aunt Mindy.  Stevie hates it, especially with Mindy after her all the time to study and tell her where she's going.  All Stevie wants is for her mom to come back so they can live together again.  Stevie begins working at a bird rehabilitation center, where she meets Alan, a troubled boy who used to go to her high school.  Stevie has a lot going on in her life, but the hardest is learning the truth about her mother.

This was a bittersweet sort of story.  Stevie loves her mom very much despite the fact her mom has done little to deserve her daughter's love.  Stevie is constantly left alone, skipping school to wait by the telephone either for her mother to call or to answer in case a call comes for her mother.  Stevie's mother has big dreams that involve selling her own jewelry and buying a house, but nothing she does gets her, or her child, any closer to these goals.

Stevie is stubbornly faithful to her mother.  She hates Mindy, mostly because her mother doesn't get along with Mindy.  She calls her, "Miss Perfect."  Mindy has worked hard and has a stable life, and Stevie and her mother scoff at this.  When Stevie has to go live with Mindy, she's angry, blaming Mindy for taking her mother away.  Mindy also critiques Stevie's mom constantly, trying to get Stevie to see the kind of mother she really is, which goes as well as you'd expect.

Stevie's mom is skilled in manipulation and making Stevie constantly feel like she's in the wrong.  If she disagrees with her mother, she's made to feel like she doesn't love her.  Her mother leaves rehab early and Stevie moves back in with her.  At first, things seem better, but then the old pattern starts again: staying away for days, collapsing when she comes home.  Stevie knows the signs now, and knows that her mother is using again.  She realizes she has to make a very difficult decision.

She's helped by not only her aunt, but also her tutor Rick, who helps her see how smart she is.  He also tells her that if she doesn't respect herself, no one else will either.

What's happening in Stevie's life is being mirrored in the summer job she gets working with injured birds.  A boy who used to go to her school, Alan also works there as well.  Alan has a reputation as a bully, but at times he seems kind and understanding.  Stevie is heartbroken when one of the birds she rescues can't be saved.  She accuses Valerie, the woman who runs the clinic, of giving up.  Valerie explains that not everything can be saved, no matter how hard we try or how much we want it.  On the other hand, sometimes people can be saved with love, patience and caring, which is shown through Alan, who did some bad things but isn't irredeemable because of them.  Stevie needs to figure out if her mother can be saved, and what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

This is a pretty serious topic, but I think it was well written for middle grade readers.  It captured well Stevie's conflicting emotions of unconditional love for her mother, and beginning to realize that her mother has not been a good parent to her.  Stevie realizes she can want more for herself, like going to college, and that it's not a bad thing to want that.  I can see it helping someone who doesn't have a stable home life, as well as being a thoughtful read for those who do.

Flyaway comes out December 19.

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