Featured Review: We'll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
About This Book:
Luke and Toby have always had each other’s backs. But then one choice—or maybe it is a series of choices—sets them down an irrevocable path. We’ll Fly Away weaves together Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school with letters Luke writes to Toby later—from death row. Best friends since childhood, Luke and Toby have dreamed of one thing: getting out of their dead-end town. Soon they finally will, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, never looking back. If they don’t drift apart first. If Toby’s abusive dad, or Luke’s unreliable mom, or anything else their complicated lives throw at them doesn’t get in the way. Tense and emotional, this hard-hitting novel explores family abuse, sex, love, and friendship, and how far people will go to protect those they love. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and NPR’s Serial podcast.
*Review Contributed By Kristie Lowry, Staff Reviewer*
An Amazing Book
Bryan Bliss starts WE'LL FLY AWAY with a quote from the legendary anti-death penalty activist, Sister Helen Prejean. "It is easy to forgive the innocent. It is the guilty who test our morality. People are more than the worst thing they've ever done."
That quote sets the theme for this amazing heart-wrenching and beautifully written story. In it, Toby and Luke are seniors in high school, and they have been best of friends since the moment they discovered each other at a far younger age. We know that Luke is in prison--on Death Row--but we don't know why (beyond the obvious reason why someone is on Death Row). Luke and Toby's story is told in alternating third person narratives and through Luke's letters to Toby. Letters he's writing at the suggestion of the cowboy boot-wearing nun who tends to the inmates who have been found guilty of the most heinous of crimes.
Luke is one of those inmates, but beyond that information, the reader doesn't have any knowledge as to the why and how of his situation. And the story of Luke's senior year spent as a socially awkward young man who loves and cares for his little brothers, who loves and cares for his best friend, and who spends any excess energy pursuing his chance to escape North Carolina by way of a wrestling scholarship, is incongruent with his position as a Death Row inmate. The tension built by trying to guess what events led to Luke's incarceration left me flipping pages at a ridiculous rate, though that was made difficult because I also wanted to linger over Bryan Bliss's writing.
But WE'LL FLY AWAY isn't just a book about the death penalty--though it is that. It's also a story of friendship. It's a story of the far-reaching impact of abuse. It's a book about family and what it takes to be a family. And its narrative details how choices and the chain of events and decisions made can alter a person's life in unimaginable ways. It also asks that the reader consider whether a person's life is the sum of their worst moment.
I'm going to have a hard time shaking Luke and Toby's story. Bryan Bliss has written an amazing and powerful novel, and it's the rare instance where an open ending is just fine with me. I'd rather let my optimistic imagination take over where the book left off.
Many thanks to the author for writing this book and to the publisher and YA Books Central for providing me a copy in exchange for my unbiased review.