________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 5. . . .October 4, 2013


The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden.

Philipa Dowding.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, January, 2014.
200 pp., trade pbk., PDF & EPub, $9.99 (pbk.), $12.99 (PDF), $8.99 (Epub).
ISBN 978-1-4597-0735-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-0736-8 (PDF), ISBN 978-1-4597-0737-5 (EPub).

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.

Review by Stephanie Dror.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


The morning I wake up on the ceiling.

Which is odd, because I've never woken up there before, not that I remember, anyway. I'm pretty sure I would remember something like that. It's not exactly the kind of thing that happens every day.

At least, not to me.

I wake up, and for a moment I can't figure out where I am. My carpet is on the ceiling. I can't understand why I am looking up at my bed, or why Cassie, my fat brown and white beagle, is also sitting on the ceiling.
My arms are floating out at my sides, too, and my long brown hair is dangling, well, up.

That's when I start to wake up and figure it out.

I'm up. Too far up. Up on the ceiling, in fact. And everything that is generally on the ground (like the carpet and my dog), is too far down. I'm not sure what to do. I try pointing my toes toward the carpet, but nothing happens. My feet just rise again and rest softly on the ceiling behind me.

I slowly circle the room, making swimming motions with my arms. Cassie circles around beneath me, worried, looking up, whining and wagging her tail. That's when I hear someone walking along the hallway toward my room.

My mom knocks on the door. "Gwennie! Are you up?" she calls.

"Yes! Yes, Mom, I'm up! Don't come in!" I call back.

I certainly am up.


Gwendolyn Golden is an average kid with average kid problems. She is going through puberty, has anger management issues, and problems fitting in at school, but it all becomes even more complicated when she discovers that she is a Night Flyer. Waking up on the roof is not normal, but then her body does not feel normal any more either. Undergoing the initiation as a Night Flyer is not easy. Gwendolyn has to learn to trust her body and control her mind. There are dangers that threaten to eat away at her self-esteem and destroy her, but she has help. Gwendolyn has to grow up fast, and she just isn't quite ready yet.

     The story of Gwendolyn Golden's coming of age is engaging – the kind of book you cannot put down. Gwennie narrates the story, which gets up close and personal with what it feels like to grow up, and to learn how to fly. Gwennie is a regular, relatable kid. She is funny, dealing with issues as they come. While the book focuses on Gwennie’s new ability, she also helps her single mother, struggles with her family's past, deals with her best friend, and everything else that goes along with life as a young teenager.

      The book is not without its flaws. Gwennie acts quite young at times and by the end of the novel, while her circumstances are altered, she, herself, has not really grown. This arises from the confusion surrounding the central conflict – is the conflict Gwennie coming to terms with a parent's death and her consequent anger issues, or is it her dealing with her new status as Night Flyer? Consequently, the text lacks a feeling of magic and mystery, as the wonders of being a Night Flyer are revealed too quickly so that Gwennie's other issues can be raised, but these more serious issues are sloughed off in favor of Night Flying.

     Regardless, the Night Flying society is a creative and intriguing idea, and Gwennie's issues are relatable. The issues of the text itself may be resolved if Gwennie's story develops into a series. The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden is an engaging realistic fantasy. It would be wonderful to read aloud to children; it may be a valuable suggestion for children dealing with loss, and it is great for middle graders who love stories with a little magic, a modern setting and which are a quick read.


Stephanie Dror is a Master of Children's Literature student at UBC about embark on the adventure of thesis writing.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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