by Victoria Forester
Review by Abby Goldsmith
I'm older than the target audience for this middle grade novel, but I adore super-hero stories, so I felt compelled to pick it up. This book exceeded my expectations. It resonated with me on a lot of levels.
If Disney-Pixar ever makes a sequel to The Incredibles, I hope they base it on The Girl Who Could Fly. It would be a perfect fit. Piper McCloud loves to fly, but her parents and community want her to be normal. Other kids her age react to her flying power with hatred or shocked fear. Local and worldwide news media are obsessed with her. So when a beautiful government agent comes to take her away from the demanding media circus and her loving-but-not-understanding parents, Piper is thrilled by the prospect of meeting other people who have super-powers.
At first, it seems like the expensive, top-secret government facility hidden beneath the Arctic ice is a paradise for special kids. Piper meets ten other kids with unique super-powers, and makes her first friends--and an enemy whose super-power allows him to bully not only her other classmates, but the government officials who run the facility. But despite her fabulous new life, Piper begins to see hints of nightmarish torture beneath the surface of daily life at the facility. Nothing is as simple as it seems--not the easy classes, the nice teachers, the gourmet meals, the designer clothes, the atrium garden and zoo full of wonders. The students can't communicate with the world outside. Sometimes students vanish for weeks, then come back crippled and vapid. One of the students can't remember his super-power. Another seems to be going slowly insane.
As Piper discovers the true purpose of the facility, she must reevaluate her own goals and biases. Her sworn enemy might be trying to save her life instead of kill her. Her most trusted confident might be trying to destroy her. If Piper ever wants to see the sky again, she must fight for her freedom, and she can't do it alone. She must convince the other "special" kids that they have a right to use their powers even when it terrifies adults, even when it goes against everything they were taught to believe.
This was a gripping story suitable for all ages. I was happy to see a super-hero story with strong female characters; the girls had some of the best powers. All of these characters are unique and memorable. Victoria Forester plays with the reader's expectations, so the character you hate the most becomes endearing and complex by the end, and the character you trust the most turns out to be a monster. I particularly liked Conrad, the super-genius.
There's more than enough wonder, beauty, sincerity, and fun in this book to make up for its flaws. But it contains some writing problems that perhaps only a nitpicky writer or editor would pick on. For one thing, it's written in third person omniscient instead of third person limited, which adds a layer of distance between the reader and Piper. The story follows Piper as the main protagonist, but one of the most pivotal scenes was not shown in her point of view. Although Piper is a wonderfully cheerful and compassionate character, her qualities are over-emphasized at times, so that she becomes a bit of a caricature. Her regional dialect ("Yeehaw!") seems too over the top. And there is one plot inconsistency: Piper is severely punished for breaking rules that her classmates seem to get away with breaking on a regular basis. The reader never learns why she's treated this way. There is also a mysterious character named J and an unresolved plotline, so I assume there will be a sequel. I look forward to reading it.
Overall, this is a refreshing new take on the super-hero genre. It may be the most sincere portrayal of being "gifted" that I've ever read. In the X-Men universe, just about every mutant wants to wear spandex and become a soldier as soon as they gain their powers; in this novel, most of the kids aspire to use their powers for future careers. Instead of splitting into teams of good guys versus bad guys, their alliances shift, because they were all lonely in the normal world or rejected by their own families. On top of that, these super-kids must deal with the labels and expectations that normal people put on them. They have to fight a powerful enemy, but this novel goes much deeper than good versus bad.
I hope to read sequels, and more books by Victoria Forester.