________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 4 . . . . October 12, 2007


X in Flight.

Karen Rivers.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2007.
234 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-55192-982-8.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Thom Knutson.

***1/2 / 4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


The moon is pretty small, a sliver with a halo around it from the cold. It’s not exactly lighting my way. I’ve got a headache throbbing deep in my brain, a slow-pounding pain. But, weirdly, I feel really good. The headache reminds me of the crash. And that reminds me of you.

Ruby, I say out loud. It seems creepy to say your name.

You make me talk to myself. I’m probably crazy, do you care? I think crazy people are probably generally happier than the sane ones. I’d rather be crazy, if this is what it feels like. I feel light. I feel golden.

I feel like a jerk for thinking things like “I feel light. I feel golden.”

I sing your name. Ruby. I don’t know any songs about Rubys but I’m sure there is one. I think maybe I’ll look some up on the internet when I get home. Oh, yeah, we have a computer and all that shit because Deer makes money doing billing for a bunch of doctors who are too afraid of technology to get their own computers. They drop it off on Friday afternoons. I always think it looks like they’re making a drug drop. These guys (okay, and the occasional woman) are wearing their silk ties and driving their nice BMWs and Mercedes and Hondas, dropping envelopes off at the trailer and trying not to step on cow crap on their way to the drop box outside the front door. You can tell it’s beneath them. Deer says they’re mostly scared of computers. I think that’s funny. Yeah. Like they can cut you open and take out parts of you and put you back together again, but they can’t figure out how to press the “on” button on a PC. I’ll google the name “Ruby.” I’ll make you a CD of Ruby songs. Yeah. I like that. It’s romantic, like a mix tape. Of course, I can’t give it to you. Smile and say, Hey, I saw you at the range, here’s a CD I made for you. Sure. That could happen. Not. You’d see right through me. You’d see what I wanted, even though I don’t know myself.

I just want to you to see me.

Maybe I do have a head injury. You’re like a song that’s stuck in my fucking head. I can’t stop. I can’t get you out.

I should make a CD for Cat, I decide. Not that she’d want me to.

I can see the lights of the trailer in the distance. I’m about a thousand metres away when I sort of stumble. I don’t even know what happened. Maybe I tripped on something, but I look down and I don’t see anything. It’s like the world just tipped a bit and I didn’t tip with it. I fall forward and try to catch myself, and the most fucking bizarre thing of all time happens. I’m not making this up. It sounds crazy to me, too, so don’t sweat it.


It’s like suddenly I have wings on my shoulders. You know that feeling when you take a big feather and wave it up and down and you can feel the whoomp as it pushes against the air, the pressure that birds must feel when they fly? I felt that.


And then I was up.


Seventeen-year-old X (short for Xenos) has a secret, a secret he’s not sure he wants to share with anyone, including his outrageous sometimes-girlfriend, Cat, for fear people may laugh or think he’s crazy. X can fly. It is an ability he literally stumbled upon while on his way home one evening. However, what puzzles X, who often thinks of himself as ugly and not special in any way, is why. Why him? Is he destined to be a superhero of some kind, or has he been given this gift for another reason?

     There are a couple of things that Cat can’t understand. She doesn’t know how she and her twin sister Mira (the “perfect one”) can look so similar, yet be so different. She also can’t believe that X chose her as his girlfriend. Cat is in love with X. At least, she thinks she is in love with him. But when she proposes that they see other people outside their relationship, X becomes angry, feeling that he is being dumped by Cat. However, he can’t deny to himself that it makes him think about Ruby. X knows about Ruby, knows about the fire, and how her mother threw her off the balcony before perishing in the blaze. Maybe, thinks X, this is what makes Ruby special, the way flying makes him stand out from others.

     In its most basic form, X In Flight is a story of teen love and relationships: X loves Cat, X feels rejected by Cat, X turns to Ruby. However, in the hands of Karen Rivers, the narrative delves into the heart of these three characters, giving each a richness and depth that will resonate with most readers on some coming of age issue, such as self-esteem, first love, first sex, loss, jealousy, envy, or identity. The voices are authentic and engaging, and X, Cat and Ruby are given the opportunity to be honest both with themselves and the reader.

     Rivers skillfully reveals her three main characters alternately by chapter. At the centre of the story is X in the first-person voice. Because the relationship between X and Ruby strengthens throughout the story, Ruby is portrayed through the unusual use of the second-person. Cat, herself, becomes more of a catalyst to the plot and is appropriately cast in the third-person.

     While in some ways the story could function without X’s ability to fly, the inclusion of this fantasy element glides easily and naturally into the narrative. Indeed, it is this feature that enables X to rise up to the height of Ruby’s bedroom window and literally peer into her life. Rivers never reveals why X received this ability but instead lets readers draw their own conclusions at the story’s dramatic ending.

     Rivers has honed her ability to create rich characters well, and teens will be waiting with anticipation for the next book in the “XYZ Trilogy.”

Highly Recommended.

Thom Knutson is the Youth Services Coordinator at Saskatoon Public Library, in Saskatoon, SK.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.