(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Analyn "Apple" Yengko and her mother moved from The Philippines to Louisiana eight years ago. Eight years. So, why does Apple's mother still insist on cooking weird Filipino foods, speaking in Cebuano, and acting so different, so un-American? All 12-year-old Apple wants is to be like the other kids. Isn't it enough that she has brown skin and black hair when everyone else is white and blonde? Does her mom have to emphasize the fact that they're not born-and-raised Americans?
Apple already feels like a misfit, but when she lands on the Dog Log—a list of the ten ugliest girls in her middle school—things go from bad to worse. No one in Louisiana can understand her humiliation, so she turns to the only people who can make her feel better: the Beatles. Escaping into music (Apple wants to be a songwriter) is helpful, but what she really needs is to escape for real. She already has an exit plan, one that involves busking in the Big Easy. All she needs to live out her dreams is a guitar. As soon as she can convince her mother to buy her one (ha!), Apple will leave Chapel Spring forever. And she'll never feel out of place again.
Of course, dreams are never that easy to achieve. There will be some major bumps along the way. Also, some new friendships that just might change everything for a lonely Filipino girl who just wants to belong ...
Back in the Stone Age (the 90s seem so long ago!), I spent my junior year of high school as an exchange student in the southern Philippines. That year abroad changed me—it broadened my view of the world; introduced me to a place marked by awe-inspiring beauty, loving people, and stark poverty; and gave me experiences I couldn't have gained anywhere else (yes, eating dog was one of them). The Philippines will always have a special place in my heart because of my year there. Thus, I'm always excited when I come across a book about the country and its culture. There aren't many, so I was thrilled to hear about Blackbird Fly, a debut novel by Erin Estrada Kelly, who is, herself, Filipino-American. The story echoes her experience growing up in Louisiana as one of very few Asian people. Apple's tale is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful as she finds acceptance and comes to terms with her complex culture and identity. As Kelly says in a blog post on the subject, "Otherness is universal." Kids will empathize with Apple because they understand feeling different. They will root for her because they long for acceptance, too. Through Apple they will learn valuable lessons about empathy, inclusion, and celebrating the differences that define each of us. For all these reasons, I enjoyed Blackbird Fly. It's an important book, one that will strike a chord with anyone who's ever felt "other"—and, really, who hasn't?
(Readalikes: Reminds me of other culture clash middle grade/YA novels like Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh; The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods; Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker; Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim; Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins; When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright; etc.)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), and mild sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Blackbird Fly from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Thank you!