Jessica Villareal is a police officer in her late thirties, and even though she’s always been the type of person to do the “right” thing and please others, she is starting to realize that her life has not turned out exactly the way she’d always expected it to: she’s divorced, has a bad relationship with her daughter which causes her to be cut off from her grandson’s life, and she’s overall an unhappy person because she’s so lonely. On a regular work day, on a tip from a birdwatcher, Jess and her fellow officers discover an Iraq war vet and his preteen daughter living in the Oregon woods by themselves, relying on nature for survival and completely separated from the rest of the world. Although the chief of police decides that this is considered child abuse and rules that the girl, Lindy, must be placed in a foster home, Jess disagrees. She can see how much Lindy’s father, Ray, loves her, and that he’s taking excellent care of her despite their nontraditional way of life. And so Jess must choose between following her orders, which she’s done her entire life, or following her heart – and this choice will have drastic consequences for Ray and Lindy, as well as Jessica herself.
I may have a bit of bias here, since I was already a fan of Jennie Shortridge before picking up When She Flew, but let me just say that this book was pretty wonderful. I definitely expected something great after loving Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, and I was not at all disappointed.
Let’s start with Jess. She was such a perfect character, in that she was just so real. She had always done what was expected of her, was always selfless so that her daughter could have the best life she was able to give her, and by the time she was in her thirties, she was beginning to realize that maybe her some of those selfless decisions backfired on her over the years. Her own daughter couldn’t see how much she loved her, choosing to live with Jess’s ex-husband after giving birth to her son at sixteen, effectively cutting Jess out from her grandson’s life. This part of the story really just broke my heart. It was so clear to me how much Jess had sacrificed for Nina, yet Nina mostly acted like a spoiled child and was blind to her mother’s love. Throughout the book, more was revealed about their relationship that made it a little easier to understand why Nina was so angry with Jess, but I was still so upset by the fact that Nina was so immature about everything. Reading about all these hardships in Jessica’s life just made me all the more proud when she discovered Lindy and Ray and made the decisions she did about them later on in the story.
I loved the way Jennie Shortridge chose to tell this story, switching between third person POV for Jessica and first person POV for Lindy. Hearing from Lindy really helped me get more invested in the story and caused me to root for her and her father to be allowed to stay together in the end. Lindy was such a great character too, so mature and independent for her age, yet so dependent on her father, the only person in the world who she truly loved and trusted. She was incredibly self-sufficient but also couldn’t bear to be away from Ray for more than a few minutes, not only for herself but also because she was trying to protect him.
The subject matter in When She Flew really gave me a lot of food for thought. In this day and age, it’s easy to think that it wouldn’t be possible to live off the land, with all the modern conveniences that the world has to offer us and that we feel are necessary to our lives, but the true story that Ray and Lindy were based off of tells us that simply isn’t true. For some people, nature and solitude are preferable to living surrounded by other people, and who are we to judge them if that’s a choice they’ve made? It gets interesting when there’s a child in the mix, when someone is raising a child in such “primitive” conditions, but in the case of Ray and Lindy, she was intelligent, clean, and obviously well cared for. This situation really made me think about our role, as a society, in determining how people should or shouldn’t raise their kids. Apparently it’s illegal to raise a child in this way, but should it be? If a child is loved and provided for, safe in every measurable way, and generally happy with life, isn’t a parent doing his or her job just fine? And why would we want to take a kid away from his or her parent(s) when this is the case? When She Flew definitely poses an answer to this question, and I agree with where the book went with the story, but I have to admit that I thought about a lot while reading this book that I’d never taken the time to consider before.
As you can see, I really loved When She Flew and would highly recommend the novel. I found it just about impossible to put down, it drew me in from the beginning and really never let go. I’m happy to say that Jennie Shortridge not only lived up to my expectations with this read, she defied them by writing a book even better than what I’ve read from her in the past. I plan to read the rest of her novels in the near future and I’ll be eagerly anticipating her next publication. 🙂
Thanks, TLC Book Tours, for the opportunity to read and review this wonderful novel. And thanks to Jennie Shortridge for my beautiful autographed (personalized!) copy of When She Flew. I about died with happiness when it came in the mail, I must admit!