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Review: Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

This might be the first official Middle Grade book I’ve ever read, and what a great way to start!

What is it?

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

First published 2015

A contemporary, middle grade novel.

The Jacket Blurb

Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko believes that there are at least three interesting facts about every person on Earth. Unfortunately, her three IFs make her an outcast in Chapel Spring Middle School in Chapel Spring, Louisiana:

  • She has slanted eyes
  • She has a weird Filipino nickname
  • …and a weird mother

When Apple is voted the third-ugliest girl in school, her life quickly falls apart. The boys bark at her in the halls and a rumor spreads that she eats dogs for dinner. Music is her only escape. All she needs is enough money to buy a guitar, and then she’ll be able to change herself and her life forever. So what if her mother doesn’t understand and thinks she’s becoming too American? So what if her supposed best friends turn the other way…

It might be the Beatles and their music who save Apple, or Mr. Z (Chapel Spring Middle’s awesome music teacher)–or it could be two unexpected friends who show her that standing out in a crowd is better than getting lost in it.

Why should I read it?

First, I’ll tell you why I read it. One of my current WIPs has a Filipino New Zealander main character. Since I’ve been writing it, I’ve been searching far and wide for books that feature Filipino characters, particularly ones who straddle the cultural divide. I found Blackbird Fly in a google search, and it sounded perfect. The only doubt I had was that it was a MG book instead of YA. But I shouldn’t have worried. Blackbird Fly covers serious issues without talking down to the reader.

So, why should you read it?

  • If you’ve ever been embarrassed by your parents.
  • If you’ve ever felt like the odd one out.
  • If you’ve been let down by people you thought were your friends.
  • If you’ve ever realised you’re not perfect either.

Apple is a fantastic character. I loved her to bits. Born in the Philippines, but raised in America, she’s struggling to find herself. Not quite Filipino. Not quite American. Her urge to fit in with the kids at school, and her inability to because of her otherness, felt completely natural. She makes mistakes, and she learns from them.

One thing I really liked is that even though it ends well (I won’t spoil it) not everything is nicely wrapped up. There’s an openness to the ending, an unresolvedness, that reflects of real life. This isn’t a fairytale where the hero gets everything they want and the villains get their comeuppance.

Erin’s writing is tight and flows well. I fell into it easily. She slips the Filipino touches in effortlessly, and they really helped to build the picture of Apple’s home life.

I thought I might be able to share Blackbird Fly with my seven-year-old, but I think the subject matter is a wee bit much for her yet. I’ll give it a couple of years.

And as for my favourite Beatles song, I think I might have to go with “Here Comes The Sun,” especially since it features in my WIP too.

Find out more about Erin at erinentradakelly.com