CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 20. . . .January 29, 2016
Piper McCloud is the only child of an older farming couple who live in a small community. Piperís natural ability to float and fly is not something her parents encourage. Unfortunately, it is what Piper loves to do best. When she shows off her talent at a picnic in hopes of making friends, she unknowingly changes the course of her life in a way that she could not have expected. Quickly it is determined that it is for the best if Piper is sent to a school which is under the control of Dr. Letitia Hellion. The school caters to individuals who have special abilities like those of Dr. Hellion. There are children who can grow and shrink on whim, control the weather, emit electrical charges, see through walls, and control objects through telekinesis. Through Dr. Hellionís mentorship, Piper begins to see that, while flying makes her happy, it can cause pain to the people around her and that she should curb her behaviour. She quickly begins to feel comfortable in her new home. Unfortunately one of her classmates, Conrad Harrington III, has set his sights on getting Piper in trouble, and he is successful. In the process, he reveals that the true purpose of both the institute and Dr. Hellion is not to help those who have special abilities, but rather to eradicate their abilities altogether. He hopes that, with Piperís help, they can escape the facility. Unfortunately, Piper has no desire to leave the rest of their class behind, and she informs him that he must create a plan that can help them all escape. After a failed attempt, Piper is severely punished, and it is months before she is reintroduced to the class as only a shell of herself. Conrad, too, has been largely affected by their failed escape and Piperís influence, and he has an existential crisis. Upon Piperís return to the class, he plans an immediate escape until he realizes that, due to her physical state, she would be unable to leave with the group. Conrad then makes the decision to stay behind with her. This act of compassion has an impact on their entire class, and the youngest student, Jasper, remembers what his ability was before the institute took it away from him; he has the ability to heal, and he is able to help Piper return to her former self. Conrad and Piper are able to make amends, and she provides insight to help the group realize what they must do if they are ever to successfully escape the grasp of Dr. Hellion.
Although the cast of characters in the novel is quite large, three characters are at the forefront of the story. Piper McCloud is a nine-year-old girl who is talkative and friendly. Throughout the novel, Piper is wholesome, trusting, kind and optimistic. While Conrad is overcome by her acceptance and forgiveness of him after learning of his betrayal, Piperís reaction is perfectly in line with her character. Letitia Hellion is the beautiful and intelligent headmistress of the Institute. Her character is written in such a way that the reader believes along with Piper that she is an individual who can be trusted. Friendly, knowledgeable and wise, the advice Hellion gives to Piper seems to be perfectly reasonable and altruistic until her true feelings towards exceptional specimens are identified. It is only then that her counsel reveals an alternative motive. The final central character in the novel is Conrad Harrington III. The 11-year-old class leader, who is unfathomably intelligent, is initially described as a mad and mean individual who takes his anger out on others, such as his classmates Bella and Piper. However, over time it is explained that his cruelness to his fellow students is actually an attempt to increase their awareness of the situation around them. Conrad and Piper become dependent upon one another in order to escape the school. As a reader, it is difficult to understand how all of Conradís prior actions were in order to protect Piper (or any of the other students), as his described emotions and thoughts seem unconnected to any noble intention. For example, it is mentioned that Conrad is jealous of the one-on-one attention that Piper receives from Letitia Hellion and that his cruelty towards others is due to anger. While Piper comes to realize that he was picking on her because she needed to become aware of the situation she was in, it doesnít explain why he was jealous of her, or in the case of Bella, why he was upset by the idea of her belonging to a loving family.
The story is written in such a way that, due to all of the events that occur, it seems like more time has passed in the lives of the characters than has chronologically occurred. An appropriate amount of background is provided to explain Piperís way of thinking, speaking, motivations and concerns. The novel is well-paced to keep the reader engaged while, at the same time, allowing for certain scenes, due to their significance and emotional weight, to be described in depth. One such episode occurs when Piper realizes that her decision to attend Dr. Hellionís school will result in her leaving her family. As she is on the point of reversing her decision, her mother reminds her that her prior actions already selected her path. The reader is given the privilege of observing Piper connect her motherís words with her own actions and finally realizing the gravity of having neglected to adhere to her motherís advice.
The language used in the novel is appropriate for the intended age range and introduces a range of linguistic styles. As Piper and her family are from a farming community, the way they express themselves is different from other characters in the book, yet it is written in a respectful manner. While the McCloud family is not highly educated, they are not portrayed as thoughtless people. It is interesting to read how Piper adapts her speech patterns to be more like her peers as well as to read the contrast in speech between characters such as Conrad and Letitia and Piper. The novel is written in the third person which allows for the thoughts of multiple characters to be illuminated.
Many different themes emerge in the novel. The one at the forefront of the story concerns the importance and struggle of being yourself. Piper must overcome the relatively good intentions of her parents and the unscrupulous plans of Letitia Hellion to be able to live her life in a way that she feels is integral to her being. Her path to this end first requires her to work through how to handle disappointing others, demonstrating forgiveness to those who have betrayed her, developing friendships and achieving acceptance. One of the most interesting aspects of The Girl Who Could Fly is the different parent and child relationships that the characters experience. While Piperís parents donít agree with everything she does and are at times unable to protect her or obtain her obedience, they are very well-meaning. Unfortunately not all the other children in the story have a supportive network family network, and some are forced to choose between wanting the best for themselves and their families.
Overall, The Girl Who Could Fly was a delight to read, and it would likely be enjoyed by preteens (and older individuals) who appreciate fiction regarding individuals with supernatural abilities.
Meredith Harrison-Lim is a MLIS graduate working for the federal government in the National Capital Region.
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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.
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.