CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2017
In Cammie Takes Flight, Laura Best continues the story of a visually impaired 11-year-old living in small town Nova Scotia in 1950, a story which she began in Flying with a Broken Wing.
Cammie Takes Flight opens with a prologue in which readers see Cammie rejoicing at being accepted into the Halifax School for the Blind, the first residential school for the blind in Canada (and which closed in 1983). Cammie is happy to be putting her Aunt Millie and her home village of Tanner behind her.
While Cammie Takes Flight is a stand-alone sequel, readers will appreciate it more if they have already read Flying with a Broken Wing. In the sequel, Cammie's background is presented in a dream and its aftermath, but those who have read Flying will have a better grasp of her situation. In Flying, readers see Cammie trapped in a life with her brassy bootlegger aunt, Millie Turple, who exemplifies how not to parent a child. Cammie has grown up unschooled and with no social contacts other than the men who come to Aunt Millie's to buy moonshine. When Aunt Millie finally allows Cammie to attend the village school, Cammie's life improves. Her teacher arranges for Cammie to get glasses and makes her aware of the Halifax School for the Blind.
One of the main plot lines in Flying with a Broken Wing is Cammie's struggle to convince her aunt to send her to the Halifax School. The other plot line is her quest to know who her real parents are, a theme which continues in Cammie Takes Flight. Aunt Millie has told Cammie that her mother was Millie's sister, Brenda, who got pregnant and went to a home for unwed mothers. According to Millie, Brenda gave her baby to Millie to raise, but Brenda may be back someday to Tanner to see her. Millie has also told Cammie that her father, son of a wealthy local family, went to war in 1939 and was killed. In Flying, Cammie learns that the information about her father is a lie, but she still believes that Brenda was her mother. Meanwhile, another candidate as Cammie's father appears, a war veteran named Ed Hanover who is kind to Cammie and her schoolmate, Evelyn.
Evelyn Merry is, like Cammie, a social pariah in Tanner because his father, a local farmer, is a violent drunk. In Flying with a Broken Wing, the two friends come up with a solution to their problems: they will blow up the local moonshiner's still. Destruction of the liquor source will force Evelyn's dad to stop drinking and will deprive Millie of her source of income. With no money, she will be glad to ship Cammie off to Halifax. In the explosion, Evelyn is knocked unconscious and remains in a coma.
Early in Cammie Takes Flight, Cammie says, "I can't stop thinking about Evelyn, all those days he spent in the hospital out cold." She also says, "I'm anxious to hear about the sloop steer his pa bought him right before I left." (A sloop steer is an ox used to pull a boat). The reader gets the impression that Evelyn is all right now and is leading a normal active life in Tanner. As Cammie Takes Flight progresses, however, there are hints that all is not well with him. Suspense over his state of being keeps readers turning the pages.
Cammie enters the Halifax School for the Blind with a defensive attitude and a secret goal. Gradually, in Cammie Takes Flight, her outlook brightens, thanks to the opportunity to be with other visually impaired young people, particularly Nessa, a wealthier resident whom Cammie initially dislikes but becomes friends with over time. At first, Cammie is afraid that her classmates will find out that she has been raised by a bootlegger and knows little about her parentage. This fear is fuelled by a disturbing phone call and then a letter from Aunt Millie. Ed Hanover, once Brenda's boyfriend, believes that he is Cammie's father, and he and his fiancee want to adopt her. Aunt Millie is outraged, claiming that Ed ruined Brenda's life.
The main area of dramatic tension in Cammie Takes Flight is Cammie's quest for her mother. Cammie has a Halifax address on an envelope from a letter which she thinks was written by Brenda to Millie. She wants to track Brenda down and confront her for abandoning her, and, with Nessa's help, she comes up with a plan. In the end, there are revelations about the Ideal Maternity Home in Chester, Nova Scotia, which was anything but ideal.
Author Laura Best has written with good taste a vividly realistic novel about less privileged people. Though Cammie's story takes place over sixty years ago in a specific setting, many young people today are growing up with harmful relatives and may take courage from Cammie's persistence to make something of her life. Young people of today cannot help but contrast the plight of single mothers of yesteryear with their circumstances today. Best's characters are fallible human beings like those many of us encounter in life. A negative character in Flying, Aunt Millie becomes more sympathetic in Cammie Takes Flight, and Cammie's uneasy, conditional reconciliation with her rings true.
The novel ends with a Christmas miracle which underlines the bond between Cammie and Evelyn. The ending may seem too miraculous to some, but it is within the realm of possibility and fulfils readers' hopes. Perhaps someday Flying With a Broken Wing and Cammie Takes Flight will be published together in one volume so that readers can read them in proper sequence. I read Cammie Takes Flight first, and it was like reading Anne of Avonlea without having read Anne of Green Gables. Meanwhile, I am saving the "Cammie novels", which are compellingly written and original in concept, for a young relative.