Monday, March 7, 2011
A Book in Flight
by Gennifer Choldenko
Dial Books for Young Readers
ages 10 and up
Gennifer Choldenko's newest arrival, NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT, delivers a rare blend of skillful craft and great storytelling that captures the hard-to-bottle quality of a book that, once it takes off, cannot be put down.
In this reality-bending story of three siblings whose world has been uprooted through the foreclosure of their home and forced relocation to another state (without their mother), Choldenko manages to pull off the extraordinary.
She effortlessly transports her characters to another plane of existence that is as understandable as it is mystifying, inviting the reader to put the pieces together without feeling overwhelmed or confused. Nothing about what happens to the three young protagonists should make sense, but it does. And that is the beauty of this refreshing novel.
The story is told through three points of view: India, a self-obsessed fourteen-year old striving for independence; Finn, a reliable man-of-the-house twelve-year old saddled with being forgettable in the eyes of his peers; and Mouse, their brilliant six-year-old sister with an equally brilliant invisible friend (Bing).
This narrative approach works beautifully, especially when the kids' flight to Denver takes an inexplicable detour to Falling Bird, a place known only by what it is not. In fact, Falling Bird is littered with signs indicating an endless assortment of "Nots"—Not Las Vegas, Not Albuquerque, Not Denver. Once separated, the different narrations serve to heighten the tension and deepen the storyline.
Falling Bird operates with its own strange, dreamlike logic built from elements of real life. Each of the kids has his and her own home that satisfies every desire, right down to a "cool mom" for India, a "dad" for Finn and plenty of explosive crafts for Mouse. And yet, all is not well in this world where new arrivals are welcomed like rock stars. For one thing, they have to choose to be citizens of Falling Bird and never see their mother again, or forever be passengers looking for a flight that doesn't depart.
Choldenko wastes no detail, making every element work double and triple duty to drive the narrative through character motivation, rather than exterior plot. India, Finn and Mouse create their own outcomes according to their individual flaws and desires—digging themselves to varying depths of difficulty (India more so than her siblings). Not only do they have to solve the puzzle of Falling Bird and find a way out of a place no one leaves, they have to overcome their own individual and collective challenges.
I'm not sure if the targeted reader will be able to tell what's really going on in Falling Bird, or if Choldenko intended to keep it a mystery to the end. I knew right away (though I will be mum about it here), but my knowing did not diminish the enjoyment or suspense; in fact, it was enhanced. So, either way, the story works beautifully.
It's not often I read a book that I get this excited about. It's the perfect middle grade attention-grabber for boys and girls alike. If you haven't already put it on your TRB list, get it on there!
Source: I bought my copy at Orca Books.