Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 62.
- Review Date: 2009-12-14
- Reviewer: Staff
Set in an English village, this novel has the feel of an earlier time (it was first published in the U.K. in 1999). Charlie has just moved with her mother, Kathy, to a neglected 150-year-old country cottage, Flightsend, where they hope for a new start after Kathy’s miscarriage. Descriptive passages of riotous plant life permeate many scenes (“and now here were the aconites, floating like golden lilies on the dark soil”). Kathy’s newfound optimism, apparently partly fueled by medication, is juxtaposed with Charlie’s anxieties about her social life, though, for 16, she is remarkably supportive and nurturing, so little tension is created. Instead, Newbery’s (At the Firefly Gate) story wanders through a series of benign events, such as the arrival of a handsome German pilot who gives meaning to the name of the cottage and eventually becomes Kathy’s beau. Charlie finds herself drawn to and attracting attention from her lecherous art teacher, and she longs for another man as well—her mother’s ex-boyfriend. Yet these potentially dangerous entanglements are, like the vegetation, eventually tamed. The result is a pleasing, quiet coming-of-age story. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)
A new beginning at flight’s end
“I don’t want ends. I want beginnings,” thinks Charlotte “Charlie” Steer when her single mother moves the two of them to a house in the country in Flightsend. After her mother’s recent delivery of a stillborn baby, Charlie reluctantly accepts the move to Flightsend, a fixer-upper that backs up to an abandoned World War II landing strip. But the 16-year-old can’t figure out why her mother would turn her back on her boyfriend Sean, the baby’s father and the only father Charlie has known for the last five years, especially when he’s eight years younger than her mother, attractive, funny and committed.
During the summer before Year 12, as Charlie finds her niche in the village as a waitress at a cultural retreat, she begins to understand relationships and the complicated forms and boundaries of love and friendship in this multilayered narrative. As she tries to rekindle the romance between Sean and her mother, she begins to wonder if her feelings for him as a stepfather have turned into a more mature love. Complicating her emotions are a young art teacher’s subtle yet inappropriate touches and encouragement when she decides to study art. Then there’s the German pilot who stealthily lands near Flightsend, knows the secret behind the hidden cross in the woods and stirs her mother out of her depression.
Newbery makes Charlie and her circle of loved ones the kind of people readers care about with her realistic yet quiet storytelling and vivid descriptions of their countryside environs. She gives the bright teen a new way to look at endings and lets her see that from loss comes healing, from goodbyes come new hellos and from a move comes a home.
Angela Leeper is a librarian at the University of Richmond.