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Let Your Freak Flag Fly

In the summer of '76, two boys form a friendship born of tragedy and sealed with the promise of excitement, first loves, and alternate uses for mini golf statues. Setting Free the Kites by Alex George.

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

BOOK REPORT for In Memory of Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

Cover Story: I Thought It Was a Kite
Drinking Buddy: Oh Yes
Testosterone Level: Can You Fly, Bobby?
Talky Talk: Literary
Bonus Factors: Amusement Park, Crusty Old Mentor, 1970s Punk Rock
Bromance Status: Summer of '76

Cover Story: I Thought It Was a Kite

This is one of those artsy covers that draws attention away from itself. I had read the entire book before I realized that wasn't a kite on the cover, but a Ferris wheel.

The Deal:

In 1976, Robert Carter is starting the eighth grade. He's not looking forward to the year. The school bully, Hollis, just flunked, so there's an extra year of torment in store. Robert's beloved older brother, Liam, has muscular dystrophy, and his condition is rapidly deteriorating. And when one sibling is ill, the other is usually ignored. Robert's father owns the local amusement park which barely makes a profit. Things aren't great.

But then Nathan Tilly moves to town. On the first day of school he stands up to Hollis. He befriends Nathan. He plans adventures. And when Nathan's kite-making father dies tragically, they practically become brothers. Adventure awaits.

Drinking Buddy: Oh Yes

Robert and Nathan quickly become such close friends that I was vaguely waiting for the big gay reveal. Robert is the pragmatic one, trying just to survive. Nathan, however, has a thousand dreams and a thousand schemes, many involving Fay, the prettiest girl in school.

Everyone should have a friendship like this at least once in their life.

Testosterone Level: Can You Fly, Bobby?

Nathan and Robert pack a lot of living into the two years this book covers. A run down amusement park, an abandoned mill, a malfunctioning fireworks display, and a creepily open-mouth Pocahontas statue contribute to these boys' formative years.

Unfortunately, with Liam's declining health and Hollis competing for Fay's affections, not everything is great. As Nathan reaches for the sky, Robert fears that his friend is going too far, too fast.

Talky Talk: Literary

This book isn't so much YA as a literary work featuring teenagers. It's framed as the memories of a man in his fifties reminiscing about his youth. Instead of an innocent, blow by blow account of freshman year zaniness, it's more of a maudlin 'If I'd known then what I know now' retrospective.

Not that this doesn't work. Alex George creates two very likeable characters against the background of the heady days of the Carter administration. Sometimes it's nice to have a mature voice of reason reminding us that sometimes the Dudley Dursleys of the world get the girl.

Bonus Factor: Amusement Park

Robert's father owns Fun-A-Lot, a medieval-themed amusement park (which includes a wild west mini golf course). When Robert was younger, he had free run of the place. But now that he's older (and expected to take over the business one day), he and Nathan both get summer jobs there. And while Robert learns the ins and outs of ride maintenance, Nathan amuses the crowds in a dragon costume (Author Alex George once was a water park mascot). Funny thing about those mascots. No one knows who they really are. No one can see the person behind the giant paper mache head, or what they're really doing in there...

Bonus Factor: Crusty Old Mentor

While Nathan plays the crowds, Robert has to learn how to repair the things that break at the park. And a lot of things break. Robert is teamed up with Lewis, a grizzled old veteran with a love for jazz, a friendly dog, and a transplanted big toe for a thumb. Robert quickly learns you can respect a man while loathing his taste in music (and vice versa).

Bonus Factor: 1970s Punk Rock

As Liam's body fails, he finds solace in his music, introducing Nathan and Robert to the punk scene of the seventies: Iggy Pop, The Stooges, The Ramones, etc. Sometimes one just needs to blast the roof off.

Bromance Status: Summer of '76

I was only one year old in 1976, but it was easy to picture myself with Nathan and Liam, searching for ghosts in the abandoned mill, fruitlessly hitting on girls, and flying kites, just so we could cut the string.

Full disclosure: I received neither money nor first run Star Wars tickets for writing this review. Setting Free the Kites is available now.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.