CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 29 . . . . March 30, 2018
Part of the novel The Discovery of Flight, is written as compulsory journal entries from Sophie, a grade seven girl, to her Hebrew teacher, Mr. Davis. The purpose of the assignment is for the students to recognize important issues and somehow integrate them with the Torah portions they receive for their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. Sophie's topics range from family, to friends, to society, to self, and her voice is very compelling as a pre-teen critically examining her world.
Sophie often writes about her older sister, Libby, a teen with cerebral palsy. Libby communicates through eye movements, in earlier years by looking at picture cards and symbol sheets, and now using assistive technology in order to write on her own. Throughout the story, Libby's physical health deteriorates, and she withdraws from Sophie in order to spend more and more time working on a secret project. After Libby's death, Sophie learns that the project is a fantasy novel, dedicated to her.
While author Susan Glickman has created a compelling voice for Sophie, and the mechanism of using a journal to share Sophie's thoughts and feelings is engaging, Glickman's choice to intersperse chapters of Libby's novel between journal entries makes for difficult reading. Libby's novel, itself, tries to be all things: a brilliant work from a brilliant mind, but also the authentic voice of a person whose real life experiences are limited. Unfortunately, Libby's manuscript doesn't measure up to either expectation. In addition, while Libby's fantasy fiction is richly descriptive, it is difficult to extrapolate parallels to Libby's real life—which is the essential purpose for including her work in the first place.
In addition to these concerns, the contents of Sophie's journal are very much "telling" rather than "showing," with heavy emphasis on continual introductions of possibly unnecessary backstory and didactic sections clearly intended to teach readers lessons about exceptionality. This continual "telling" disturbs a potential story arc from full realization. While each individual entry by Sophie is very well-written in terms of voice and polish, we miss the kinds of progressive character development and page-turning incentives that engage readers of this audience-age in pushing ahead to find out what will happen next.
While the plot of The Discovery of Flight does get bogged down in details, these details may be significantly interesting to readers who wish to explore family dynamics where characters with exceptionalities are concerned, and Glickman has done a notable job of authentic presentation of such information.
Recommended with Reservations.
Bev Brenna is the author of many books for young people as well as Stories for Every Classroom, a close examination of Canadian fiction presenting characters with exceptionalities.