I will admit to being a little nervous when my friend Mary gave be the book When She Flew, by Jennie Shortridge. Shortridge is a childhood friend of hers, and as a result I started worrying about what I would write here if I didn't like the book. (It never occurred to me not to write a review...guess I'm a book blogger for real now!) Thankfully I enjoyed the book, and am therefore let off the hook of having to write a negative review of a friend (which is what it would have felt like!).
When She Flew is the story of Jess and Lindy. Jess is a police-officer, a single mom of a single mom-her daughter had a baby at 16 and left home to live with her father. Lindy is the 13 year-old daughter of an Iraq war vet. She and her dad have been living "off the grid" in the Oregon wilderness. When a birdwatcher catches sight of Lindy and reports a child in danger to the police, Jess and Lindy's worlds meet with jarring consequences.
In terms of story, this book reminded me a little bit of Jodi Picoult Light, and I mean that as a compliment. It's the kind of story that Jodi Picoult likes to tell-one about family and love and society and redemption. However, Shortridge's book is heavier on the personal and lighter on the political than a Picoult book is. The story is simple without being simplistic, an easy read that still provides depth and substance. It highlights one of the most current of current-events, the Iraq war and its repercussions, in a way that isn't preachy or jingoistic, just honest.
My only criticism is that Jess's character seemed so guilt-ridden over her choices as a mother. Her daughter, enraged by her mother for kicking her father out when she was 10 or so, becomes combative, finally removing herself mostly from Jess's life when she gets pregnant. Throughout the book Jess expresses remorse again and again for putting her career before her daughter, but nothing about the way that their life is described makes me think she was an absent mother. I think that too often working women are portrayed in media, and made to feel guilty for, having a career and interests outside of child-rearing. We are all supposed to be horribly conflicted and feel guilty the whole time we are away, living only for the moment we can be with our precious child again. While I'm sure that is the experience of some women, there are also plenty of women who see their career as an important part of their identity, and who don't feel as though they have to sacrifice everything about themselves to say they are a good mom. Balance is possible. I understand why Shortridge wrote Jess that way-she needed a plausible motivation for her actions in the story. I just wish some other mechanism could have been found to make that happen.
But, as my friend Mary will tell you, I tend to over-analyze anything remotely feminist in nature. Mary, if you're reading this, I'm sure you are shaking your head and chuckling that I manage to find something political in such a simple, personal story. Well, you know me...I love nothing more than a good debate! Regardless of how I feel about Jess's motivation in the story, this book is an enjoyable, poignant read.