Sunday, June 05, 2022

Flight + Fight

Machias, Jules. Flight + Fight
May 24th 2022 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Avery and Sarah are 8th graders who are dealing with a lot. Avery was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, hypermobile type (hEDS), which is painful and can result in serious injuries if she is not careful. Since she loves riding her dirt bike and jumping on trampolines, this has been a hard diagnosis to deal with, and a tumble on her bike has lead to her arm being in a sling and some very painful physical therapy. Her mothers are very supportive and give her lots of room to express herself. She identifies as pansexual, which is not a big deal to her Mom and Tuney, who is a transwoman and transisitioned when Avery was small. Her best friend is Mason, whose biracial heritage and small size often make him the target of small mindd classmates, and who tries to watch out for Avery. Sarah has a very traditional family, with a very Catholic mother and father. Her brother James, who is gay, had altercations with the principal Mr. Ritter at their middle school and is at a local private school. Her mother babysits in the home, and Sarah sometimes helps out, especially with her younger sister, Ruthie. She has a lot of anxiety, especially after the death of her Aunt Camila and her cousin Luci's subsequent move out of town. Her parents think that she should pray more and help out others in order to deal with her anxiety, but she takes far more comfort from her drawing, examples of which fill the book.  Avery has a crush on the pretty, calm Sarah, and Sarah wishes she were more outspoken like Avery. After a very dramatic active shooter drill at school, Avery and Sarah get to know each other. The two talk to each other about their fears and become closer. Avery is sstill very angry about the traumatizing active shooter drill, which Mr. Ritter implemented because some students, especially Avery, were not taking the drills seriously, although Avery claims she was joking around to help Mason's anxiety. Encouraged by James, she looks for ways to get revenge on the principal, even though her mothers tell her that revenge is not the way to go. Avery and Sarah decide to hang an anonymous poster about active shooter drills and work on a petition to end active shooter drills in their school, although Avery still thinks that a more intense act of revenge is called for. The girls also embark on a romantic relationship that adds a bit to Sarah's stress, given her family background and the financial discrepancies between her and Avery. Will the two be able to deal with their various issues and remain friends?
Strengths: Avery and Sarah's alternating chapters give the reader a lot of insight into both of their struggles, and also a good window into how they are each dealing with their relationship. Mason is a very interesting character, and it's a little unusual to see a best friend who isn't being dropped in a middle school book, although Avery and Mason certainly have their issues while her relationship with Sarah is developing. There are lots of good details about Avery's physical condition, her therapy, and how she deals with the emotional fallout of a lifelong chronic illness, and about Sarah's anxiety. Sarah doesn't get much support at home, so her attempts at coping on her own are fascinating to see. The active shooter drill is portrayed as a traumatizing event, so might need a trigger warning for sensitive readers. This is definitely on trend as far as many of the issues both Avery and Sarah face. Their friendship is multifaceted and also typical of the complex relationships today's readers experience. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of issues being discussed for an upper middle grade book. While all of these are important, some readers might struggle with so many things that might be new to them. The active shooter drill seemed odd to me, but that's just because I can't see something like that ever being done in my school. Perhaps other schools take such extreme steps. 
What I really think: This is a good addition to a list of books that include issues of anxiety, like Piontek's Better With Butter or LGBTQIA+ issues, like Bunker's Zenobia July. There are not as many middle grade books dealing with chronic health issues, so Avery's hEDS was interesting to see. 

Ms. Yingling

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