The Story: [from GoodReads] Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie. Sure, she hasn’t mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she’s real good at loop-the-loops. Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma’s at her wit’s end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents’ farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities. School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences. Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.
If this novel’s premise sounds a little bit like X-Men, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but the super-gifted children in The Girl Who Could Fly are not mutants – they’re just average kids blessed with special abilities. Premise-wise, it’s been done before – an average kid discovers that she is gifted, is whisked away to a special school, and meets other kids just like her. But the elements that set The Girl Who Could Fly apart are its sweet story and immediately likable protagonist. The narrative is told from Piper’s perspective with some minor exceptions (more on that below). I found myself emotionally connected to Piper so that when she was happy, so was I. When she was sad, I was, too. And when she got cotton-pickin’ mad, so did I. Some readers may not like Piper’s dialectal tone, but for me that added to her charm. As for the rest of the cast, Piper’s peers and even the adults at the institute were fleshed out fairly well for a book of this size and intended audience (i.e. middle grade). Granted, some characters run close to being stereotypes but they manage not to completely cross the line and are memorable for the course of the story.
My only genuine gripe about the novel is its narrative inconsistency. As stated above, most of the story is from Piper’s perspective but it occasionally drifts into other characters’ points of view, such as the calculating genius Conrad and the institute’s overseer, Dr. Hellion, for a few portions. Younger readers might not notice this shift but I found it a bit rough around the edges when it happened, which wasn’t often, to be fair. But I think I would have found it less jarring if it occurred more frequently with Piper sharing the narrative with some of the other characters so that the POV switches were consistent rather than sporadically dropped in.
Another tiny issue worth mentioning for discussion’s sake is the principle message of the book. Let me state there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling kids that it’s okay to be an individual and to embrace and use their talents. But sometimes this theme gets hammered home a little too much in this book, especially when one character touts a blatant “different is bad, normal is good” philosophy that comes across as more than a bit heavy-handed. Granted, the execution of this theme might tie into the primary age group for this book where directness is used more often than subtle inference. So it’s not necessarily a negative in and of itself but it is something that I detected while reading though I’m not picking it apart.
Likewise, another portion of the book that seemed weaker or more underdeveloped than the rest was the introduction of the character J. (no, not the Men in Black character!) who tries to help Piper. While J. is shown briefly early on, his character is all but dropped until a later exchange with Piper and then is never brought back into the picture. I’m not sure if either he wasn’t supposed to be present but was added as a deus ex machina of sorts (as he tends to fill that role to a certain degree) or if he had a stronger presence in one draft, was omitted in another draft, but the published manuscript incorporates some of the original draft alongside a secondary version. I might have just been missing something, too, but it left me scratching my head, especially since J. tries to help Piper in a pivotal scene and it’s a rather big moment to just bring in a character and then almost never see or hear from him again. (Though seeing as there is a sequel to this novel, perhaps J. is a more dominant figure in the second novel, The Boy Who Knew Everything; but as I have yet to read that book, I can’t say for certain whether that’s true or not.)
Lastly, Piper seems too eager to forgive another character for a betrayal. Granted, she’s not the type to hold grudges but her casual response didn’t feel entirely believable, especially considering the gravity of the offense. In the same way, the closing chapter, while charming, wraps things up a bit too quickly and neatly. Overall, none of these are true negatives, especially if you keep the book’s primary demographic in mind (which isn’t adults) and they’re minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of the novel’s story. So while these things certainly don’t keep me from enjoying the book, they are some of the story’s weaker moments.
All of that being said, I found the story itself easy to take and dive into as there is plenty of action and tension as well as some good surprises. I also appreciated Piper’s depiction as a Christian girl, and while the book isn’t overtly religious, the theme that each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made” is fairly evident. Likewise, Piper prays, blesses her enemies, is nice to everyone, and keeps her cool, all of which are noble traits and reveal her true character. Her parents seem strict but they raise her right in terms of her values and Piper almost never strays from them. Rather than being a goody-goody, Piper is an old fashioned, down-home girl who wants to do what’s right and fair. This aspect of her personality is derived from her Christian upbringing but neither her family nor her are portrayed as Bible-thumping blowhards. So kudos to the author for avoiding that trap.
As a whole, I always have fun reading this little novel. It might not be the most original offering out there in terms of its general premise, but it certainly makes up for it by sporting a fun cast, thrilling action, and an entertaining plot that even adult readers, such as myself, can enjoy and appreciate.
Language – Only two or three PG-level profanities are uttered throughout the entire book.
Violence – There are some tense scenes and moments when characters are subjected to treatments and testing against their will but there is no graphic violence. Likewise, two characters die in tragic circumstances (though their demises are not graphically depicted). These scenes would frighten only very young readers, most of whom would probably be too young to read this book.
Sexual Material – None.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl Who Could Fly for its charming characters and story as it’s sweet without being saccharine. While it does possess a few narrative weak moments, it delivers where it counts, especially as an edifying read. And anyone who has ever felt like an underdog will immediately relate to Piper McCloud and experience a catharsis by the end, regardless of how old they are.