The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt

summer-i-learnedCindy: Dana Reinhardt gets better with every book and The Summer I Learned to Fly (Random/Wendy Lamb 2011) is no exception. Last year’s The Things a Brother Knows was a piercing look at the relationship between two boys and the impact of war. In this story, Reinhardt examines the intricacies of mother-daughter relationships and perfectly captures the roiling emotions of being a teenage girl seeking her own way. Many teen novels do this with exploration of illicit substances or acts, but this one is a gentler, but just as real and heartwrenching portrayal. Drew and her mom own a gourmet cheese shop in California where Drew is spending her days during the summer before 8th grade. She has a pet rat that she hides from the customers and the health inspector and a crush on surfer Nick who works in the store and teaches her the mysteries of making fresh pasta. An escape from Hum, the rat, leads her into an unexpected friendship with a boy who eats old cheese from their dumpster. It takes Drew rather a long time to figure out Emmett’s story, but the journey there is filled with delights, including her father’s Book of Lists that she found after his death and some great adult characters who are there to support and provide limits for Drew’s coming of age. One of them is Aunt Swoozie who offers this sage advice:

“Oh, Bird-girl…Junior high is a strange land inhabited by strange creatures. The best you can do is keep your head down and your nose clean, and hold your breath until college.”

This is a sure bet for middle school girls who, like Drew, know that they are waiting for something, they just don’t know for what. Be patient, girls, it will come. It will come.

Lynn: 18-year-old Drew Robin Solo looks back on the year she learned to leap, learned to believe.  At almost 14, Drew is the “sort of girl who was born cautious.”  She doesn’t like roller coasters or scary movies and always wears a helmet.  She was “holding her breath, waiting for life to begin.”  For Drew the push comes gently with the realization that her long-time crush has a girl-friend, a chance encounter with a boy and the gradual awakening to her own loneliness.  I loved what Reinhardt did here.  No zombies, no super-powers, no sex.  Instead she gives us a girl so real she could live next door, a girl we were or could be and the sort of chance occurrences that could happen to anyone.  Yet through Reinhardt’s skilled prose, that sweet unsettled misery of being 13 is sharply immediate.  This is a lovely coming-of-age story that is reassuring without ever being condescending about the emotions.  I also liked the well-developed adults in this story.  They influenced and affected Drew and still had recognizable lives of their own – something that doesn’t always happen in teen novels.  Then of course there was all that amazing sounding cheese!  The descriptions of the food drove me to serious snacking.   And don’t forget the rat – His Excellency the Lord High Rat Humboldt Fog, or Hum for short – a really charming addition to the story.

Cindy pushed me to read this one and I’m so glad that I did!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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