I read Blackbird Fly, the debut novel by Erin Entrada Kelly, at the recommendation of the author’s cousin (hi John!). I actually finished the book a few weeks ago, so I’m late with this review – it’s been a crazy few weeks for me! On the plus side, I have now seen Avengers: Age of Ultron twice, and I am officially DONE with grad school as of this weekend.
Blackbird Fly (aimed at middle school readers) tells the story of Apple, a Filipino American girl living in Louisiana with her mother. Apple is best friends with Alyssa and Gretchen, but when Apple ends up on the “dog log”, a malicious list of the ugliest girls in school created by the meanest boys in school, relationships begin to change. Apple’s escape is an old Beatles’ cassette tape of her father’s. Her dream is to learn to play the guitar and create music like George Harrison, her favorite Beatle – if only she can convince her musically-skeptical mother to buy her a guitar.
Apple’s story took me (against my will) back to middle school and the inescapable torment that awaits the newly-hormonal. At that age kids have the full capacity for adult social reasoning with none of the discretion or compassion, resulting in the overwhelming urge to solidify social standing by other-izing (and ostracizing) anyone who stands out. I went to a private middle school in South Florida, and when there’s no diversity to speak of, the role of playground target will inevitably fall to the class ginger. (Yours truly. You may have noticed that gingers never marry one another. It’s a diabolical attempt to maximize the carriers of the ginger gene, thereby increasing the chances of our continued survival and the exaction of our revenge for the wrongs of middle school).
Although I hated middle school, I love teaching eighth graders as a Sunday School teacher. The students’ powers of reasoning are approaching maturity, and they’re eager to tackle the hard questions. As they approach adult reasoning power, however, tweeners are suddenly faced with the adult problems of the world – it’s no wonder puberty can suck. Apple confronts ignorance and outright racism in her peers, who accuse her of being a “dog-eater” (have I mentioned I will NOT be sending my Asian American children to school in Louisiana?), and objectification at the hands of the patriarchy, which begins frighteningly young.
The themes run deep and don’t hold back, but the characters are lovable and the emotional catharsis of the novel is one of the best I’ve read. I highly recommend Blackbird Fly, especially to middle school teachers seeking to diversify their classroom literature. Here’s to seeing more from Erin Entrada Kelly in the future.