Monday, February 27, 2012
Book Review: Girls Don't Fly by Kristen Chandler (Whitney Finalist)
Author: Kristen Chandler
Referral: Whitney Finalist
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 30
On Saturday morning, I got up to go running. It was 5:30 in the morning and windy, and I hadn't made arrangements to run with any of my friends, but I managed to pry myself from my bed with the knowledge that I'd have Myra, the protagonist of Kristen Chandler's Girls Don't Fly to keep me company.
Girls Don't Fly opens with Myra sitting on the steps of her ramshackle house, filled with too much junk and way too many brothers, as her "perfect" boyfriend, Eric, breaks up with her. She's in shock, but in true Myra fashion, she endures the breakup quietly and takes refuge in cleaning. Myra is a good girl-- she works really hard, and everyone can count on her. Everyone does, most notably her parents, who seem to think she's the primary parent to her four younger brothers and her pregnant older sister, who's not married, home on bedrest, and perpetually in a foul mood. As a result, Myra doesn't have time to do much for herself, and she doesn't have great self-esteem. You know all of those stories in the Young Women's manuals about girls who earn their rewards in heaven by sacrificing their dates and their relationships with friends by caring for their hordes of younger siblings? Well, that's Myra.
Except not exactly. Because Girls Don't Fly is set in a western suburb of Salt Lake City, but Myra isn't Mormon, which sets up all sorts of interesting dynamics between her and the other kids at her school, especially after her older sister gets pregnant. As Myra is reeling from her breakup, she learns about a program to send high school students to the Galapagos Islands to work with biology professors. Myra has some vague ambitions for what she'll do after high school, but no plans, no time to work, and zero money, and this program seems like the perfect fit for her. She falls in love with birds and with biology. The birding symbolism is just right-- Chandler introduces each chapter with some detail about birds, but it's not overdone. Think Refuge married with a YA novel, and you've just about got it.
There are a few things that didn't work for me in the novel. The middle is a little bit slow. The relationship she develops with the graduate student who she works with is a little bit icky. Some readers will be uncomfortable with the frank discussions of sex and a scene that very nearly involves a sexual assault. There's also a smattering of adult language. I felt that all of these details were necessary and important for the narrative and didn't seem gratuitous. Also, the villain is a Mormon, which might not make this a popular choice for the Whitneys.
The best thing about Girls Don't Fly is the way Chandler unfolds Myra's growing realization that she is a doormat. In the early chapters, we don't realize that Eric is a jerk because Myra hasn't learned to see him that way. I spent a whole morning run complaining to a friend about how awful Myra's parents were and how Myra needed to learn to stand up for herself, and very shortly Myra started to come to those same difficult conclusions (difficult because Chandler shows that Myra's feelings are complicated-- she loves these people and has sympathy for them, but seriously-- how is she supposed to go to school, have a job, and being the full-time caregiver for five extra people?). There are plenty of books written about spunky, outspoken girls, but not enough about the girls in the back of the class who never raise their hands, not enough books about the Myras of the world.
I've now read 15 books for the Whitneys, and Girls Don't Fly is my favorite so far. Maybe that shouldn't come as a huge surprise since Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me (also by Chandler) was my favorite book last year.