CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 19. . . .January 17, 2014
Cammie Deaveau is a bright, spirited girl with dreams for her future. But the 11-year-old is stuck in the care of a nasty, hedonistic aunt who only thinks of herself. Cammie has a visual impairment, and her aunt has always used that as an excuse to keep her out of school to help around the house. Flying with a Broken Wing begins when Cammie puts her foot down and insists on the opportunity to be educated. The setting is a small Maritime town, and the period is post-World War II.
It isn’t easy, but Cammie gets enrolled in the small school and is nurtured by the teacher, Miss Muise. Most of the kids ignore her or make fun of her, but she does make one friend, Evelyn Merry, the son of a no-good drunk and a fellow outcast. Evelyn and Miss Muise make a big difference in Cammie’s life, helping her get glasses, learn to swim, plan for the future and feel more confident in her own abilities.
Cammie's family is a mystery to her - a mother who abandoned her and a dead father - but, as the story progresses, her aunt's many lies have Cammie suspicious. What if she could find some real family? It might mean she could go to a special school for the blind and visually impaired in Halifax. That is her greatest wish, and, with her friend Evelyn, she tries to make it a reality. Unfortunately, their plans are ill-conceived and lead to tragedy. However, by the end of the novel, Cammie does find some real family and is able to open a door to the new life she has always wanted.
The historical setting used in the story is relevant, illuminating and vividly executed. Best does not try too hard to impress readers with little historical details; rather, she creates a believable milieu which just happens to be in the past. Cammie’s aunt sells moonshine, and her realm of drinkers and bootleggers is not an obvious or usual choice to include in a historical setting. It felt very fresh and realistic, and the scenes of partying scenes in Cammie’s home are short but evocative. While these specifics belong to the past, the theme is relevant for any kids with parents who engage in illegal or irresponsible activity. Cammie and Evelyn also get up to some harmless hijinks which seem old-fashioned now but which are quite fun and charming in the story.
The book contains an ongoing metaphor describing Cammie and/or her nerves and emotions as a “little bird.” This seemed a little prim and heavy-handed. I think Best could have provided a little more insight into Cammie’s specific impairment and its psychological and emotional affect on her. Some of the best parts of the novel include her coming to terms with reading and writing and the joy she experiences with her new glasses even though she still cannot read the blackboard. Best generally does a good job of probing how limited Cammie’s life has been growing up in a small town where no one has noticed or encouraged her because she is slightly different. Again, this is a theme to which many children can relate.
Cammie has a feisty voice, and it is easy to root for her. Her adorable friendship with Evelyn, a fellow victim who refuses to feel sorry for himself, is also very well developed. Evelyn is also teased and ostracized at school and abused by his drunken father, but he is courageous and finds joy in many things, including encouraging Cammie. The story does not shy away from the sadness that both Evelyn and Cammie feel, often being victimized and unloved. It is sometimes sad to read about their struggles, but it is also a reality for a lot of kids. Sacrificing Evelyn at the end of the book in order to let Cammie get on with the rest of her life is a rather obvious and clichéd manipulation, and I believe Best lets readers down with this facile plot twist.
While the plot is somewhat limited in its scope and imagination and some of the characters are a bit predictable, a charismatic protagonist and captivating setting make Flying with a Broken Wing a worthwhile read.
Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.
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