We’ll Fly Away – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 8 May 2018
Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.
But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling.
We’ll Fly Away is a well-written, hard-hitting YA novel with important messages about poverty, child abuse, the justice system, and friendship. I knew We’ll Fly Away would be heartbreaking. I also expected it to be raw, upfront, exposed, and almost crude. It certainly is an unflinching book, with threads of hope (but mainly heartbreak) and a positive message.
Luke and Toby are best friends – the only ones to see inside the truths of the other’s life, the only ones who could understand. But Luke struggles to maintain his wrestling record for a college scholarship with his mother’s ever increased neglect and caring for his two younger brothers, and Toby falls into a relationship with an older woman while continuing to face his father’s abuse. Events will come to a head as the boys fight for their friendship, their future, and their freedom.
We’ll Fly Away is written both through third-person narration focusing on the two main characters, Luke and Toby, and letters written by Luke to Toby from death row. This before and after style is tantalising, as it is impossible not to wonder what happened to lead Luke to this current place.
We’ll Fly Away does everything it sets out to do. However, it is not the sort of book I could say I enjoyed. It is important and it’s message, while clear and made clearer from the author’s note, is not preachy nor overbearing. Instead, We’ll Fly Away is the perfect conversation starter, ideal for sparking debate, and something I would love to unpack with teen readers.
Toby and Luke, for all their flaws and unrepentant teenage-boy-ness, are likeable characters. In fact, it’s hard not to want to sweep them away from their life of abuse and neglect. But this is their story – hard though it might be.
There are many important topics touched upon in We’ll Fly Away. Most notable, perhaps, are child abuse, poverty, and the justice system incorporating the death sentence. While We’ll Fly Away doesn’t promise a happy ending, there is a thread of hope that runs through the story. Perhaps it is the boys’ resilience, perhaps the quiet times of them dreaming of another future, perhaps in enjoying the small moments. In any case, it’s the type of hope that is more likely to have you crying than smiling, but it is hope nonetheless. We’ll Fly Away is a powerful novel.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Death penalty, friendship, poverty, abuse, physical abuse, wrestling, neglect, alcohol abuse, relationships, sex, family, execution, social issues.
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Sexual references, implied sex scenes. Frequent coarse language, f*** (51), sh** (118), as***** (20), di** (7), pi**(10). Alcohol use and addiction, alcohol-fuelled violence. Violence – strong descriptions of physical abuse, fighting, wrestling, violence leading to death and execution.
Published: 8 May 2018 by Greenwillow Books.
Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook. 416 pages.