Book Reviews

Review — How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson

How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson. | My copy: egalley, Hodder Children’s Books (Hachette Children’s Books), March 5th, 2015. | Source: The publisher via NetGalley. | View on Goodreads here.

*I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Hodder and Hachette!


‘If Finn Maison shouts jump you jump or you are dead.’

Twelve-year-old Willem has Aspergers Syndrome and two main aims in life: to fly and to make at least two friends of his own age. But all the other boys from the Beckham Estate do is make him jump off things. First his desk – and now the wall. As his toes teeter on the edge, Sasha Barton gives him a tiny little wink. Might she become his friend?

Bullied by Finn and his gang the Beckham Estate Boyz, Willem has no choice but to jump. As he flies through the air he flaps his arms, wishing he could fly and escape into the clouds. Instead he comes crashing down and breaks his ankle.

Sasha, angry with herself for not stopping Finn and his Boyz, is determined to put things right. And soon, while the gangs riot on their estate, Willem and Sasha form an unlikely friendship. Because they share a secret. Sasha longs to fly too.

And when Magic Man Archie arrives with stories of war-flying spitfires, he will change the lives of the kids on the Beckham Estate for ever. And perhaps find a way for Willem and Sasha to fly …

Touching on themes such as friendship and bullying, this is a charming tale about overcoming obstacles and finding friendship in unlikely places.

The review:

The good:

The friendship. The story is about Willem, whose teacher gives him an assignment to make two friends his own age. He meets Sasha, a girl who feels terrible guilt about not helping Willem after he’s bullied by Finn and some other gang members to jump off a wall. Sasha becomes a loyal friend to Willem, and it was touching to see them protect and stand up for each other.

The very kind and supportive adults. Like Willem’s Gran. Like Sasha’s retired rock star dad Fox. And their neighbor Archie. Gran was so cute, Fox was hilarious, and Archie was so kind — though it took me a while to warm up to him.

Buster the canine companion. Dog BFFs are the best.

Archie’s mom being a Spitfire pilot in World War II. You, go, Rachel! Women pilots were far outnumbered by men in the war, and the fact that Rachel flew a fighter plane was an even rarer feat.

Willem’s “flight” and Archie’s arc at the book’s end. These two scenes (multiple, in Archie’s case) were the best in the book, in my opinion. While Willem’s flight seemed far-fetched, it definitely was gripping and terrifying, and probably the most memorable scene in the book. And Archie — sweet, sweet Archie. I won’t say anything about his story line for fear of spoilers, but it felt appropriate.

The not-so-good:

The writing. On Goodreads I wrote reading progress updates: “The writing isn’t impressing me or anything. It’s a bit simple…” And: “Willem and Sasha’s voices aren’t at all different. I got confused who I was reading from… Adults aren’t speaking like adults normally would… I’m really not a fan of the short choppy sentences. It reads young and there is little vocabulary.” In the blurb, Willem is supposed to be twelve (as are Sasha and Finn, I would suppose). But the book’s topics feel more young adult while the writing feels more middle grade. The writing in general wasn’t so great. It made it easy to fly through the book, but it was really weak and fairly simplistic. There was no color to it and sentences were often “I did this, she did that” and variants. Meh.

The characters overall. I felt no connection to anyone. It took me forever to warm up to Sasha and Willem. Finn was a jerk most of the time, though he did have a few redeeming qualities and brief moments when his kindness showed.

Illogical plot points. Oh, here, take a look at my mother’s personal trunk of clothes and memories and go try on her dress. Oh, look, I made a perfect replica of Da Vinci’s wooden wings in one night without ever mentioning I know woodworking or engineering. Oh, hey, I can suddenly fly a plane. Oh, look, the warring gangs make a truce after some scolding from an older man. Etc, etc.

The verdict:

How to Fly with Broken Wings had a lot of potential. It actually might have been better as a purely middle grade novel (and if it is actually middle grade, then I truly didn’t get that vibe from it). Sadly, it fell flat for me and seemed a bit hard to believe. ♦


So tell me…

Have you read How to Fly with Broken Wings? If not, what are your thoughts after reading this review? What was the last book you read featuring airplanes or pilots, if you can recall? As always, happy reading!

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