Title: Flight of the Puffin
Author: Ann Braden
Genre: Realistic Middle Grade Fiction
Number of Pages: 240
I almost feel bad giving this one a negative review because I actually liked the characters, and it had potential. However, Flight of the Puffin is so saccharine it almost put me into sugar shock, and the way the characters and their stories were developed ultimately could have been SO much better.
This book centers around four kids- Libby (a girl with an uncaring family who’s considered to be a ‘bad egg,’) Vincent (a nerdy, bullied boy enamored with triangles,) T (a non-binary kid living on the street,) and Jack (a boy mourning the loss of his younger brother and trying to save his small-town schoolhouse) with alternating chapters from their perspectives.
Libby loves to draw and paint and she has the idea of writing positive messages on index cards and leaving them around in public for random people to find. Her gesture of kindness ends up bringing these very different kids together and gives them the strength to deal with the problems in their lives. This is the kind of book where serious issues are resolved super-easily.
For example, T advises Vincent (who I’m pretty sure has Asperger’s, even though it’s not diagnosed) to do a ‘defensive stance’ with his hands on his hips when he’s being bullied. He tries it and it works! The bullies stop picking on him instead of thinking that him arguing with them with his hands on his hips makes him look even gayer than usual. The bullies torment him for most of the book and then in the final chapters they just wind down and leave him alone.
Libby’s parents are straight-out psychologically abusive but her mom suddenly comes around near the end, and it’s never acknowledged how toxic they are. T’s chapters are written in verse and are way too short- you barely know anything about them and they seem like a pretty pointless character, compared to the characters who at least have more detail put into them. T’s gender identity is pretty much their only character trait and we don’t really find out what their life was like before they became homeless.
They seemed more like an opportunity to incorporate anti-GLBTQIA+ injustice to me than a real person. In real life, big issues don’t always have easy solutions and I think there’s a way to portray the complexity of being a kid and growing up even in middle grade. The grown-up characters were particularly one-dimensional and their behavior was hard to understand bordering on inexplicable. I liked Vincent and Libby’s characters but I wish they had been part of a better story.