Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is.
Title: Blackbird Fly
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Publication date: March 24, 2015
I received Blackbird Fly from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Apple’s always been embarrassed by her mother, but now that she’s in middle school things are even worse. Her mother has trouble with English and is strict. The boy her best friend Alyssa likes starts accusing Apple and her mother of eating dogs AND Apple learns at the same time that she’s made the Dog Log. The Dog Log is not just a list of the most unpopular girls, but the ugliest. Apple, with her Asian features, is not considered pretty in small-town Louisiana any more than overweight Heleena is.
Apple’s friends, more interested in social climbing than in being decent human beings, go along with the popular crowd and start ignoring Apple, lest they become targets themselves. When this happens in most MG books, it’s more that the girls are growing apart, but in this case, Alyssa is just a terrible person. She’s more the leader and the other girl Gretchen just follows along, clearly not totally onboard — but as Apple later reflects, thinking of her own behavior before she was shunned, standing by silent might be even worse.
Apple’s obsessed with The Beatles and wants to learn to play their songs on the guitar. There’s just one problem: she doesn’t have a guitar and her mother won’t let her get one. Apple decides to save up the money for one, somehow only needing $20. The guitar, along with a school field trip to New Orleans, is going to be her ticket out of Chapel Spring. This fantasy, along with her new friend Evan, is what keeps Apple going. All she needs is to get that guitar before the field trip and everything will fall into place.
Evan is a great character, not the typical middle school boy. He’s confident in himself. So what if his interests are considered nerdy? He likes model airplanes and he’s going to start a model airplane club whether the popular kids like it or not. He’s also outspoken, and he’s able to stand up for Apple when she’s reluctant to stand up for herself. He really goes out of his way for Apple in a lot of ways. I think he’s a little unrealistic, but I like him enough to overlook that.
Blackbird Fly is a delightful yet painful book that a lot of kids Apple’s age will be able to relate to whether they have an immigrant parent or not. That’s just one thing that can make you different, but there are many more. It’s hard to see that Apple can’t share her problems with her mom, but it’s typical of someone Apple’s age. She’s embarrassed by her mother, but she still loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her. One of my favorite scenes happens late in the book when Apple gets to see her mother as a real person instead of just her mom.