________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 23 . . . . February 20, 2015


Taking Flight.

Sheena Wilkinson.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014.
310 pp., trade pbk., ePub & PDF, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55455-328-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55455-850-6 (ePub), ISBN 978-1-55455-851-3 (PDF).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Chris Laurie.

**** /4



"What's wrong, sir? I filled it in right." Not like Cathal Gurney. Mr. Dermott had to let him take his form home, though I don't think anyone in Cathal's house could do much better.

Mr. Dermott runs a hand through his thin ginger hair. "Well, yes, technically; I mean, you've ticked all the boxes. But it's not really what I expected."

"What d'you mean?"

He takes out a blue form, covered in neat black writing, from a folder on his desk. "This came this morning. From Ms. Brooke."


"Ms. Brooke has a great deal more to say than you." His face breaks into a big dopy smile. "Declan, this is one of the best reports I've ever seen."


He shakes out the blue form and makes a big deal out of putting on his glasses. "'
Outstanding. Natural affinity with horses. Valuable member of the team. Eminently suited to this type of work. Trustworthy. Fast learner...' Close your mouth, Declan. She wouldn't call you a fast learner if she saw you looking like that."

I snap it shut, feeling my lips stretch into a grin wider than Mr. Dermott's as I do.

"So? What do you have to say?"

"Well, I knew I did OK," I begin.

He snorts. "OK! This is more than OK. So why," he picks up my green form again, "do you have so little to say for yourself?"

"Don't know sir. Didn't know what to put."

"'Don't know sir. Didn't know what to put!'" He shakes his head, takes off his glasses and looks at me. "What do you intend to do with your life, lad?"

Irish teen Declan Kelly's life is going from bad to worse. His father was killed in a car crash when Declan was a baby, his mother is a chronic alcoholic, and he's just been disciplined for assaulting a classmate who was taunting him. One awful night, his mom overdoses and is taken into a treatment facility, and Declan is taken in by his Aunt Colette and Cousin Vicky. Vicky lives a more privileged life than Declan and is very jealous of having to share her home, her mother, and her horse, Flight. When Declan joins her at the stable, he quickly discovers that he has an affinity for horses and realises that working at a stable could offer him the chance for a better future. Tensions rise as Declan's work experience at the stable increases his bond with the horse, whilst several plot threads weave together, building to an inevitable breaking point.

      Taking Flight is a complex novel with a large cast of characters, each exquisitely well-developed, including the adults. Declan and Vicky remain sympathetic throughout, despite the poor decisions that each makes. This novel touches on issues including self-esteem, alcoholism, jealousy, personal responsibility, and cycles of behaviour around addiction and abuse.

      Declan is an especially fascinating character who struggles to care for his alcoholic mother while trying to attend school and pretending to the outside world that everything is okay. While caring for Flight, he finds himself powerfully drawn to the horse as a symbol of power and speed, which also awakens in him a sense of responsibility he never had before. Vicky is less sympathetic; she is self-absorbed and spoiled. When her jealousy escalates to vindictiveness, events take a sudden and tragic turn.

      Chapters alternate between the two engaging and believable main characters' first person narrative to create a fast-paced story sure to appeal to teen readers.

      Sheena Wilkinson has won many awards for short fiction and has a Masters with Distinction in Creative Writing from Queen's University, Belfast. She teaches English in Belfast and lives in County Down. A lot of the ideas for this book came to her when riding her pony in Castlewellan Forest. Taking Flight is her first novel, winning two Children's Books Ireland Awards. Grounded, the sequel to Taking Flight, was also the recipient of two Children's Books Ireland awards.

Highly Recommended.

Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.

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.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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