Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Blackbird Fly

Blackbird Fly

Erin Entrada Kelly
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2015   ISBN: 978-0062238610

When Apple was little she and her mother left their home in the Philippines and they came to the United States to live in a town called Chapel Spring in Lousiana. Apple’s mother says that they moved to the States so that they could have a better life, but Apple is sure that her mother simply could not remain in the Philippines after her husband, Apple’s father, died suddenly. When they left the Philippines, they left almost everything they had behind. All Apple brought with her was a postcard showing a beach in the Philippines and an old Beatles cassette tape. The tape has her father’s name on it and last year Apple was able to buy an old tape player so that she could listen to the music on the cassette.

As far as Apple is concerned, “once you listen to the Beatles, you can’t go back,” and she has been trying to persuade her mother to buy her a guitar ever since she fell in love with the music created by John, Paul, Ringo and George. So far Apple’s mother has refused to let Apple get a guitar because she thinks her daughter should focus on her school work, and music would be an unwanted distraction.

Apple’s mother likes to think that they are part of American society now, but Apple knows otherwise. She does not fit in with the other girls at school. She has a strange name, dark skin, slanted eyes, and black hair. She also does not wear the kinds of fashionable clothes the other girls wear, because her mother refuses to buy such clothes for Apple. Because of her mother’s un-American, “weird” ways, Apple long ago stopped bringing any of her friends over to their house. It was just too embarrassing to do so, and she firmly keeps what little social life she has very separate from her home life.

Apple has long been on the fringe of her social group, the group that Gretchen and Alyssa belong to, but at Alyssa’s party Apple’s status shifts considerably. One of the boys talks about how Apple must get sick a lot because of “all the dogs you eat.” It does not matter that Apple is from the Philippines and not from China, where people do eat dogs. As far as Jake is concerned all Asian people eat dogs.  Then Jake says that Apple is on the “Dog Log.” The Dog Log is an unwritten list of all the girls in their school who are considered ugly. Apple later finds out that apparently she is third on the list.

To say that Apple is mortified is an understatement. Alyssa pretends that she wants to get Apple off the list, but in fact she goes out of her way to make Apple miserable. The boys are just as bad, if not worse, and Apple decides that the only option open to her is for her to run away. What she needs is a guitar and then she can become a street musician in New Orleans. She can stand on the side of the street and earn money by singing and playing for the people who pass by. Surely such a life would be better than then one that she has.

Apple’s school life gets worse and worse and then a new boy comes to school, a boy called Evan Temple who does not seem to care what Alyssa and her cronies do or say. Unlike Apple, he is does not define himself based on what other people think of him. He is comfortable in his own skin and their words mean nothing to him.

In this remarkable book we see how a girl, who is cruelly bullied at school, finds out that fitting in at school is not the be all and end all. In fact, staying true to yourself and finding your own voice really matters. The question is how does one do this? What is the secret?

With great sensitivity and an appreciation for what life is like for tweens, the author of this book explores some painful issues, and she gives readers a lot to think about.