The Summer I Learned to Fly
Summer I Learned to Fly
Dana Reinhardt
ISBN 9780385739542
Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2011.
5 stars
Keywords: cheese coming-age dana-reinhardt friendship pets single-parent-family summer-i-learned-to-fly

The Summer I Learned to Fly
by Dana Reinhardt

Dana Reinhardt's (How to Build a House) exceptional novel captures the essence of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Drew Robin Sole, called "Birdie" by her mother, does not believe in riding her bike without a helmet or swimming where there's no lifeguard. But during the summer of 1986, 13-year-old Drew, who narrates, "throws caution to the wind." Drew's mother has just opened the Cheese Shop on Euclid Avenue. Mrs. Mutchnick, "a grandmotherly type with... [an] ever-present bun," crosses the street from her fabric store to give Drew a gift: a pet rat. Drew names him Humboldt Fog, after her favorite kind of cheese, and calls him "Hum." She takes him everywhere, including the Cheese Shop. One day, Hum escapes, and that leads her to Emmett Crane, a boy her age hiding behind their shop's dumpster.

Reinhardt carefully constructs the narrative to reveal Drew's gradual awakening and growing independence. She discovers a book of lists in her father's handwriting (he died when she was three), and here's the line that "lodged itself inside [her] like a feather: 'Fears: that I'll never see my Birdie learn to fly.'" Her mother, who loves her daughter "madly," starts spending more time away from home. Drew's friendship with Emmett leads her further from her usual path: "I was seeing my world, the world I thought I knew every corner of, from a new perch." Drew realizes that learning to fly doesn't mean leaving the familiar behind, it means appreciating them from new heights. Perfection.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness.

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