The Year I Flew Away: Full of heart and humor

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

The Year I Flew Away (2021), by Marie Arnold, combines the timelessness of a fairy tale with the timeliness of the immigrant experience, all while being set in the 1980s amidst Whitney Houston and Prince. It’s a charming middle-grade novel full of heart and humor.

Gabrielle is a young girl living in Haiti; though she’s poor, she’s surrounded by family and friends. One day her parents have big news: Gabrielle is going to America to live with her aunt and uncle. She has to go alone, though, because of issues with her parents’ paperwork.

Gabrielle thought America would be heaven, but instead she finds herself terribly lonely; the other kids make fun of her and leave her out. And when her uncle and aunt take her to their respective workplaces, she learns that they have to deal with bigots on a daily basis. Gabrielle feels like she’ll never be “American enough” to fit in. And it so happens that there’s a witch hanging around — one who offers Gabrielle three wishes, for a price.

Marie Arnold

Marie Arnold

The desperation that drives Gabrielle to accept the witch’s bargain is poignant, as are the unintended consequences of her wishes. When one of the wishes lands her family in danger, she’ll need to team up with some new friends to set things right. And she and her peers will all have to learn that their diversity is what makes life rich.

There’s something that happens at the end of the story that, if it happened in real life, would cause a lot of people to be very worried for a long time, and instead everyone seems to just take it in stride, which made me scratch my head a bit. I think it’s possible it’s not meant to be literal, but it’s not clear. I’m not sure this plot point would faze a kid, though — sometimes an adult-brain overthinks things in children’s books!

I would not hesitate to recommend The Year I Flew Away to young readers. It’s beautifully written, it’s funny, it’s adorable, and it carries an important message. Kids who’ve had experiences like Gabrielle’s will easily relate to her; kids who haven’t had these experiences will find the story accessible because of the engaging voice and the fairy-tale elements, and learn something along the way.

Published in February 2021. In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK. It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell. Gabrielle is a funny and engaging heroine you won’t soon forget in this sweet and lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Hurricane Child and Front Desk.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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