Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Book Review: "Setting Free the Kites" by Alex George

Few friends have a first meeting like Robert Carter and Nathan Tilly. It's the first day of eighth grade in 1976, and Robert has resigned himself to another year of being bullied by his nemesis, Hollis. Yet Nathan literally rescues Robert in the midst of Hollis' repeatedly sticking his head in the toilet. Not quite an auspicious meeting, but certainly a memorable one, one which Robert is truly grateful for, especially once events continue to unfold.

The boys' friendship intensifies rapidly. Nathan is the brave, carefree one, obsessed with the wonder of flight and all things that fly, while Robert has spent most of his life being much more cautious, perhaps as a result of his parents' protectiveness in the wake of his older brother's serious illness. But each brings out the best in the other, and while there isn't much to do in their Maine hometown, the two are pretty much inseparable, especially in the wake of two tragedies. But they take jobs at the local amusement park owned by Robert's family, and that both occupies and complicates their lives.

As Robert watches his parents' marriage weather difficult times, he can't seem to muster up the enthusiasm for life that he once did. And as Nathan faces each situation with a never-fail, constantly positive attitude, especially around winning the attention of the most beautiful girl in school, Robert starts to get frustrated with Nathan. He misses their us-against-the-world friendship, their recklessness, and he wants his old life back.

Setting Free the Kites is a pretty terrific book about how friendship changes your life, especially when you're young. It's also a story about fear and bravado, love and loss, and what it's like when children begin to realize their parents have secrets and flaws, just like everyone else.

I really loved this book. There's so much emotion, nostalgia, humor, and heart in this story, and Alex George did such a terrific job in making a simple, familiar story so compelling and making his characters so interesting. Even though you've definitely seen elements of this story before (I have no idea why I was reminded of the end of the movie Stand By Me, as this book has almost nothing in common with that movie), it's really a special book.

Alex George is tremendously talented. I remember wanting to read his first book, A Good American, so I'm definitely going to need to add that to my list now. If you love books that make you feel nostalgia for those special friendships of childhood, you should absolutely read Setting Free the Kites. It'll leave you with a lump in your throat and a smile in your heart.

NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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