Friday, May 4, 2012

Flying Solo

Flying Solo
Ralph Fletcher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998
$5.99, Paperback
February 20th, 2012

Genre: Realistic
Age: 9+
Description: What would you do if your teacher’s substitute never shows up? Mr. Fabiano’s sixth grade class is faced with that decision one day. Due to a series of random circumstances, it never got to the principal that the substitute was sick and the class decides they want to prove to everyone that they can run the class just fine by themselves. Following the schedule Fabiano left behind for the sub, the kids have a pretty normal day—they do spelling, geography, music, writing, DEAR, etc. All they have to do is make it to the 2 p.m. school presentation in the auditorium and they will get away with it. Everything seems to go great until Bastian and Rachel get in a fight over a classmate who died six months earlier. Can the class fix everything and finish the day “flying solo” or will the crash and burn?
Opinion: I picked this book up solely based on the interesting art of the characters on the cover and then read the description. I got so much more out of it than I thought and actually plan on purchasing this title for myself. The book is told in various third person vignettes—starting with some of the main characters beginning their day followed by the sub calling in sick, how the note about her absence got misplaced, and other various increments throughout the day of these kids’ lives. Why this book offered so much more is because it really was a deep, poignant story. Rachel has refused to talk since Tommy’s death and no one understands why. Tommy, a boy with developmental problems, was 14 and had been held back twice. He also happened to be “in love” with Rachel, constantly making her Valentines and bringing her baked goods from his family’s bakery. She scoffed at his gold berry pie the day before he died in his sleep and the guilt at how she treated him has caused her silence. Bastian is a military brat—he makes fun of everyone as a defense to not get too close. He was supposed to move to Hawaii on Monday but his plane is leaving Friday night instead. He’s worried a lot about his puppy who is to fly out tonight but will have to be placed in quarantine for four months. Is that fair to the dog? The class has very good logic for their reason for trying to run the class and they actually succeed until the fight when Rachel accuses Bastian of his cruelty toward Tommy. They do patch things up in the end. All the characters have a pretty bad weekend with the ramification of their choice to school themselves and on Monday have to write their own versions of what happened for Mr. Fabiano. We find Karen, class president, taking full responsibility; Bastian (in a note written on Friday) admitting his fault in teasing Tommy and giving his puppy to Sean who has always really wanted a dog; and Rachel finally finds her voice. I originally thought this was a book for younger kids but it is so emotionally trying and the insights so profound that I feel it is better for older readers. It really also shows that sometimes kids can be responsible if given the chance by adults.

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