Pretty much everything here originally appeared at my actual blog: By Singing Light. I particularly focus on upper middle-grade and young adult books. I also enjoy adult genre books, especially speculative fiction.
Apple Yengko in Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly, has some similarities to Andi. Her mother is a widowed Filipina who emigrates and builds a new life (this time in America). Also like Andi, Apple has a frustrated passion: music. Her most prized possession is her father’s old tape of Abbey Road, and her deepest dream is to learn to play guitar.
But Apple’s mother refuses to let her buy a guitar, and as the story opens she finds that she is on the middle school’s Dog Log, a list of the supposed ugliest girls in the school. Her old friends distance themselves from her, and Apple spends most of the book wishing for a way to be someone else, and to make music.
I found this one a somewhat difficult book to read, not because it’s badly written, but because everything seems so awful for so long. Kelly writes about the torments and anxieties of middle school very well, and perhaps for that exact reason, I found the middle portion of this book tough. As Apple rebuilds her sense of self, finding new friends amongst the other outcasts of the middle school, things definitely improve. And the end is lovely and triumphant, especially with a surprise revelation from Apple’s mother that ties up the themes of family and memory.
I also suspect that part of what made this story a hard one to read is the fact that as an adult it’s very easy to see what is happening and Apple’s own missteps. It’s quite possible that for a younger reader, the whole experience of reading this book would be different.