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Blackbird Fly Hardcover – March 24, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Eighth grader Apple and her mother moved from the Philippines to Louisiana several years ago after the death of her father. All Apple has left of her dad is a Beatles cassette with his name written on it. At school, her two best friends are trying to become part of the in-group and have become very critical of her, especially after it's discovered that she is on the unwritten Dog-Log and considered one of the ugliest girls in school. Apple is embarrassed by her mother, who doesn't speak English well. The protagonist is desperate to get a guitar so she can learn to play the Beatles songs that her dad loved, but her mother is adamant that she not waste her time on music. Soon, Apple makes friends with a new boy, Evan, who's not impressed with her former friends or their boyfriends. When the music teacher loans her a guitar, she discovers that she is something of a prodigy. The story will resonate with any student in middle school who has felt different and ostracized. The author has skillfully captured the various characters that populate Apple's middle school. Only Apple's mother remains two-dimensional until almost the end. The story is rather predictable until it ends with a twist. Apple mentions her favorite song "Blackbird" many times; readers unfamiliar with the song would benefit from listening to a recording or finding a YouTube clip.—Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC
“Each character in Kelly’s debut novel . . . is portrayed with remarkable authenticity. The awkwardness and intense feelings inherent to middle school are palpable. Children’s literature has been waiting for Apple Yengko—a strong, Asian-American girl whose ethnic identity simultaneously complicates and enriches her life.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“Will resonate with any student in middle school who has felt different and ostracized. The author has skillfully captured the various characters that populate Apple’s . . . school.” (School Library Journal (starred review))
“[A] delightful debut . . . What sets Kelly’s book apart is the combination of a quirky narrator and details about living in a first-generation Filipino American household. . . . Through her love of music . . . Apple starts to soar like the eponymous blackbird of her favorite Beatles song.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
“A smart, sensitive, and resilient heroine who is authentic and relatable in her strengths and imperfections. This poignant novel would make for a particularly fine readaloud; expect visceral reactions . . . This is a must-read for those kids cringing at their own identities.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
“Writing with acute sensitivity and sometimes painful realism, debut novelist Kelly skillfully captures the betrayals, tentative first crushes, and fluctuating emotions of middle school ... a true triumph.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Kelly skillfully weaves together the story of misfit Apple, her love of music, and a budding romance with a new boy at school, while never losing focus on the central issue of what it is like to be the ‘other.’” (Booklist)
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Personally, I thought the book was okay, but it wasn't great. Yes, the main character feels different because her family (mother) isn't the same as all of the other kids' parents (single mother, not white, eats ethnic foods that white kids don't understand) and she's going through a lot of the same issues that many teens go through (being white doesn't mean you don't go through the same "not fitting in" feelings as everyone around you--just look at what her two best friends go through). Being a teen is all about going through changes and having times when you don't fit in and you lose (or make) friends.
I wanted to read this book because I wanted to know how a non-caucasian teen sees and deals with growing up in a predominately white area. And I really did sympathize with her situation. Being a teen is difficult no matter what, and it was doubly so for her.
However, the ending was what, for me, was a let-down. You don't just stand up and face your fears (and you certainly don't get others to do so) on the turn of a dime. She was working her way to the ending and would have eventually gotten there, but it's as if the author decided that she had gone on long enough and decided it was time to wrap things up. And that is a real shame, because this book had more to give and could have been better if she had just let the ending play out naturally.
What I didn't like were the supporting characters who, like Apple (the main character), are bullied at school. Or I liked them individually, but didn't buy into their grouping. Apple teams up with an unconventional boy and an obese girl--both of whom are targets for the bullies. Together they create their own little circle. It read like a cynical marketing grab aimed at Generation Z school diversity programs. I wish it didn't, but that was my take. It was too easy to group them together and none of them have anything quirks that make the friendships difficult. I also had a hard time believing that Apple would be called the various racist phrases given the current anti-bullying culture at school. It's certainly possible and I'm sure some readers can vouch for that, but kids who do this are usually ostracized pretty quickly, at least in my neck of the woods.
I first heard about Blackbird Fly from the We Need Diverse Books blog and then my book club picked it to read. Oh how much I freaking loved this book. As a child of an immigrant I was able to relate to Apple in so many way. I just felt a deep connection and I believe others would feel the same way.
Erin Entrada Kelly truly captured what its liked to be in middle school and trying to navigate the social structures within it. Oh the flashbacks. I felt I knew each character in the book in real life and could match them up with someone I once knew. Plus The Beatles music was an added bonus.
Overall the was just a great book. I would recommend this book for children and adults.