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Review of We’ll Fly Away

We’ll Fly Away
by Bryan Bliss
High School    Greenwillow    408 pp.
5/18    978-0-06-249427-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-249429-0    $8.99

When best friends Luke and Toby were kids, they tried to fix up a crop duster they found abandoned in the woods outside their rural North Carolina town, fantasizing it could one day fly them out of their troubled lives. When they got older, the plane became a hangout spot and refuge — when Toby’s dad beat him or Luke needed to escape the one-bedroom apartment he lived in with his neglectful mom and much younger brothers. Now that they’re high school seniors, the real escape plan is only a year away, when Toby will follow Luke to Iowa on a wrestling scholarship. Yet before readers learn any of this, the novel opens with Luke’s first letter to Toby from death row. With Luke’s letters as interludes, a third-person narrative flashes back to their senior year, focusing on a significant week in the boys’ lives. Everything fits together as readers start to understand the severity of Toby’s abuse, the depth of Luke’s loyalty (and stifled rage), and the complexities of their dynamic — especially once the boys’ respective love interests enter the scene. The outcome will surprise no one, which is, of course, the point: the reading experience is not about learning what put Luke in prison but when it will happen and how. Bliss stokes this tension, evoking the dread of death row and the claustrophobia of a dead-end town, a life you need to escape from. In this truly tragic story there is profundity at every turn, and readers up for heartbreak will come away understanding more about loyalty, empathy, and redemption.

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is managing editor of The Horn Book Guide.

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