The Summer I Learned to Fly is a YA coming-of-age novel by Dana Reinhardt.
Drew is thirteen-years-old in 1986 as this story takes off. We get the sense that an older Drew is telling the story.
She’s a loner and an obedient daughter to her single Mom, working diligently at their cheese shop. Drew carts around her best friend, her rat, everywhere with her in her backpack – against the rules - and has been reading her deceased dad’s Book of Lists without her Mom’s knowledge. She found the Lists by accident, but savors every second of getting to know a father that died before she had any memory of him.
As she spends her days in routine, happy to spend her days with her crush, Nick, who is older and works behind the counter in-between surfing – one night at closing, things change. Drew meets Emmett Crane.
He’s eating the cheese shop’s castoffs because he apparently likes their food, has a cut on his cheek, and is very friendly with Drew’s rat – not to mention oddly knowledgeable about rats in general. He intrigues Drew.
This new kindling of friendship is so unfamiliar for Drew, but also exciting. She may have found her first real friend – that is, if he’ll ever tell her what he’s hiding.
The Summer I Learned to Fly is the epitome of a coming-of-age story, and the summer setting only increases the tender nostalgia of it. I found Drew to likable and believable in her young teen years, realistically portrayed as a cautious loner. The fact that the story is told in past-tense, from an older perspective, brings a level of maturity and depth to it as well.
Dana Reinhardt definitely makes the novel emotionally magnetic. It’s a slice-of-life, lessons-learned type of book done very well. There’s a raw simplicity to her portrayal of the ordinary tragedies of life in motion. Without giving away the various plot developments, I will say that The Summer I Learned to Fly was at times very painful to read, sad, and touching as are the real-life growing pains of learning to make decisions that hurt and moments you’ll always remember.
It was enough to make you cry, sob, and look back on your own childhood – or maybe remind you of your current one. I don’t always love these kinds of books, because sometimes I feel like they purposefully pull on your heartstrings, and I didn't adore the end of this one – but it’s impossible to deny the excellent storytelling of this author and worth of this slim but memorable little novel.
Bring a box of Kleenex.