Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Setting Free the Kites

Title:  Setting Free the Kites
Author:  Alex George
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399162100 / 978-0399162107

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Nathan Tilly gave me the story I'm going to tell, but it was the old paper mill that set my memories free."

Favorite Quote:  "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal."

A small coastal Maine town. The 1970s. Middle school. An older brother with a life threatening illness. Parents whose attention is focused on that ill sibling. A ramshackle amusement park that is the family business. These are the things that define Robert Carter's life. Oh, and one more thing. A Best Friend. Robert meets Nathan Tilly on the first day of eighth grade, and life is never the same. Nathan Tilly is new to town. Nathan Tilly is an optimist, bold and daring. Their friendship begins with a stand against bullying and is cemented because of family tragedy. They are inseparable.

The story is told from Robert's perspective. Decades later, he reflects back on the friendship and on that time in his life, filled with a lot of sorrow survived only through friendship. Although not directly, this reflection comes forth with the reason for telling the story. "I need to confront my loss, not run away from it. I wanted to wade in with my eyes open and all my senses alert. I wanted to register everything, from the giant waves of sorrow to the inkiest ripples of remorse. I didn't want to miss any of it."

His reflection becomes a reflection on childhood and growing up and all that entails. "Sometimes life-changing moments slip by unnoticed, their significance only becoming apparent in the light of subsequent events." Robert and Nathan's story covers things you may expect in a coming of age story - school, bullying, jobs, parent complaints, jobs, and the attraction of forbidden places and activities.

Robert and Nathan's stories also tackle much bigger issues - terminal illness, accidents, and death. Thus, this is very much a story about grief and how different people process grief differently. This is true not just of Robert and Nathan but also of the characters that surround them. The grief of Robert's parents for their ill child is palpable. The grief of others - Nathan's mother and Lewis - are much more subtly expressed. Along with grief is a sense of survivor's guilt - the guilt of not being able to save someone and of being still here and still living. Through all of this, Robert and Nathan's friendship becomes their anchor.

I  love the storytelling in this more more than the actual story. The plot has some twists that seem to come out of nowhere and seem out of place. Some character's back stories and some actions leave me wondering. Some of the connections drawn seem contrived and unnecessary. However, the storytelling weaves everything together in a way that keep me reading. Although the story is set in and around an amusement park, the storytelling conjures up an image of a cold, secluded, and dark place. The image does not match the setting, but it does match many of Robert and Nathan's experiences that year.

A coming of age story. A story of friendship. A story of loss and grief. All of these come together with memorable writing that places me in the heart of Haverford, Maine.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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