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*The Summer I Learned to Fly* by Dana Reinhardt - middle grades book review
Also by Dana Reinhardt:

The Things a Brother Knows


How to Build a House

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life
The Summer I Learned to Fly
by Dana Reinhardt
Ages 10-14 224 pages Wendy Lamb Books July 2011 Hardcover    

At first glance, The Summer I Learned to Fly may not capture the imagination of most pre-teens – the main character’s chief interests are cheese and rats. Nonetheless, Dana Reinhardt’s newest novel encompasses so much more as she tells the story of 13-year-old Drew Robin Solo, sometimes known as Birdie.

Drew’s father died many years ago, but recently she has found a book – her father’s book of lists. Reading the book over and over again, Drew glimpses into her father’s life: his hopes, dreams, regrets, and favorites.

Drew’s mom owns a specialty food (mainly cheese) shop in a small town during the 1980s. Drew’s pet rat (surprisingly a sweet, very clean animal) goes everywhere with her (including work). Both of their lives revolve around the cheese shop, where her mother spends all her time and Drew works with her Aunt Swoozie and very handsome, 19-year-old pasta-maker and handyman Nick.

One day, Drew meets a boy her own age behind their shop, where her mother puts out day-old food which is usually taken by people in need. Emmett is like no one else Drew has ever met. He is kind, funny and genuinely interested in Drew, cheese and her rat.

At first his character is rather transient. She sees him only once in a while and really knows nothing about where he lives or his family. Slowly, they begin to spend more time together, building a friendship based on similar interests. When tragedy strikes and Nick is injured, Drew’s world seems upside down.

Her mother has a love interest but is not straightforward about the relationship. All their energy goes into Nick and his rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Drew learns of Emmett’s quest: to find the healing waters mentioned in an Indian legend his father used to read. If they find the waters, the two children believe they will be able to heal the ones they love.

The Summer I Learned to Fly is a beautifully engaging story of friendship and coming of age which transcends generations and hits on people’s innate needs for friendship, honesty, forgiveness and unconditional love. As the story progresses Drew moves out of her own comfort zone, takes risks and grows up – accepting the imperfect world she lives in and taking steps to becoming her own person – separate from her mother, independent and strong.

Reinhardt’s writing, especially Drew’s voice, rings true as she takes the reader into an ordinary world which changes into an extraordinary environment with characters about whom you will truly care and yearn to know what happens next.
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  Kristine Wildner/2011 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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