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Friday, September 26, 2014

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Book Review: Paper Airplanes

I’ll start this review by admitting that there are few things I find more important in life than good friendships.  I will delve further by saying that strong female friendships are of particular importance to me, and I am drawn to any type of media that explores this theme in a relatable and accurate manner. That being said, when I heard about this novel through one of my closest female friends, I was extremely intrigued. Even better, the same friend invited me to join her at a book singing for Paper Aeroplanes where we could pick up a copy.  

I had the pleasure of being able to meet Dawn O’Porter at a quaint book shop in LA and hear her read an excerpt from the novel. As a human, Dawn O’Porter could not be more endearing and likable. Her and her husband (Chris O’Dowd) showed up to the book signing with candy and TWO cakes decorated in theme with the book for everyone to snack on (as well as wine which is ALWAYS appreciated). During her brief introduction of the book, O’Porter spoke to the group as if we were old friends, and it was clear that what she had written meant a lot to her. She chose a perfect event in the book to sample, as it highlights the overall tone of the story and the relationship between our two narrators perfectly.  Before I even cracked open my newly signed hardcopy, I knew I was in love.
The story focuses on the lives of two seemingly different girls. Renee lives with her grandparents and a younger sister, displaced at a young age when her mother dies of cancer and her father abandons the family. She seeks adventure often and rarely considers the rules when making decisions in school. Surprisingly, she finds school to be very enjoyable, as long as she can find ways to have a little fun. She has a couple of friends, but doesn’t seem to establish a meaningful connection with anyone. Flo is a wallflower who spends most of her days taking care of her 4 year old sister and taking orders from her hellish “best friend” Sally. She lives with her mother and two siblings in lew of her parents divorce, and feels especially alone following her father’s decision to move out. Both girls find themselves looking for comfort in friendship when the story begins.

The circumstances by which our narrators separately arrive at the house party that sets off their friendship are pretty similar. Both girls insist on borrowing clothes from other girls as they think they have nothing to wear, which is a pretty standard thought process for any girl in high school. This and many other details allowed me to effortlessly connect to the plights of these two characters. Although the novel deals with some very intense and emotional topics, such as death, eating disorders and sexual assault, it also perfectly captures the everyday struggles of young girls in their most formative years. What I loved about this novel was it’s fearless approach to the embarrassing and unmentionable horrors that many women would like to forget happened to them in high school. There is an abundance of “period talk” in this story, and it would be entirely unfair to have a coming of age story without it.

The added excitement of the story taking place in the UK is definitely noteworthy for me, as an American reader who has a less than subtle obsession with all things British. The dialogue and culture references were not intense in a "Jolly good day, care for a cuppa tea?" kinda way, but they absolutely allowed the reader to drop themselves onto the small island that the girls live on. In addition to a foreign setting, the book also takes place in the 90s, when O'Porter herself was a teenager. Being that I was a child throughout the 90s, I will admit that I was fascinated by the distinct absence of the internet, cell phones, and texting. These elements played such a huge role in my teenage years that it was incredibly interesting to see the way that people communicated without them, even though I obviously knew how they did. The title of the novel refers to the old fashioned mid-class text, a note written on a paper airplane. 

O’Porter admitted that the girls both have a lot of the qualities that she sees in herself, and that many of the experiences in the story are ones that she went through, including the death of a parent at a young age. Even if I had not known this going in, I would have absolutely felt the raw emotion within the inner dialogue of both girls, and the reality of everyday life after such a traumatic event in a young persons life.

I can’t remember the last time I read a YA novel that felt so much like talking with my girlfriends around the lunch table in high school. The novel was so nostalgic for me because it made me reminisce about how many great female friendships I have been lucky enough to have. This book is important because it highlights a very positive friendship as well as shedding light on the slew of negative friendships that everyone will experience in their lifetime. It is important to note that this book does not shed negative light on female-male friendships, but I have always felt that a girl needs her girlfriends, and now I know O’Porter agrees with me.

I feel like I made two new friends while reading this book, which is why I am so excited by the release of the sequel, which as of now is only out in the UK. I anxiously await the day where I can get my greedy paws on a copy.
Title: Paper Airplanes

Author: Dawn O'Porter

Genre: Young Adult

Recommendation: Absolutely

Best Reader Audience: Women and girls, probably over 15

Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Bunny Bums!
Want to revisit your possibly awesome, probably embarrassing high school years? Use this link to support the Lone Book Club!

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