What’s it all about?:
‘If Finn Maison shouts jump you jump or you are dead.’
Twelve-year-old Willem has Aspergers Syndrome and two main aims in life: to fly and to make at least two friends of his own age. But all the other boys from the Beckham Estate do is make him jump off things. First his desk – and now the wall. As his toes teeter on the edge, Sasha Barton gives him a tiny little wink. Might she become his friend?
Bullied by Finn and his gang the Beckham Estate Boyz, Willem has no choice but to jump. As he flies through the air he flaps his arms, wishing he could fly and escape into the clouds. Instead he comes crashing down and breaks his ankle.
Sasha, angry with herself for not stopping Finn and his Boyz, is determined to put things right. And soon, while the gangs riot on their estate, Willem and Sasha form an unlikely friendship. Because they share a secret. Sasha longs to fly too.
And when Magic Man Archie arrives with stories of war-flying spitfires, he will change the lives of the kids on the Beckham Estate for ever. And perhaps find a way for Willem and Sasha to fly …
Touching on themes such as friendship and bullying, this is a charming tale about overcoming obstacles and finding friendship in unlikely places.
What did I think?:
When Alexia Casale (YA author, organiser of YA Shot and all round “good egg,”) asked me if I would like to interview Jane Elson as part of a blog tour for YA Shot, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I completely fall in love with Jane’s debut novel A Room Full Of Chocolate last year but I have had her second novel on my Kindle for a while now wondering when I was going to get round to reading it! I’m so glad I made time for it now as it was a heart-breaking and terrific read that cemented me as a definite fan of Jane Elson.
The author focuses on a few different characters in this novel but the pivotal character is a twelve year old boy called Willem who has a form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. This leads to him having problems interacting and communicating with others, strange rituals and behaviours that he must complete otherwise he gets very anxious and he also tends to see the world in a very literal way which can be quite confusing for him if someone is being sarcastic for instance, or making a joke that he cannot understand.
At the beginning of the novel, poor Willem is at the mercy of school bully Finn and his horrible gang. They exploit both Willem’s fear of the bullies and his passion for flying in the worst way – by making him jump off a fairly high wall. He breaks an ankle in the incident but is still determined to complete his homework set by his maths teacher, to make two new friends. Like a little guardian angel, in flies Sasha Barton. She is the girlfriend of gang leader Finn but has become increasingly fed-up with his antics and feels terribly sorry for Willem after he breaks his ankle, visiting him and vowing to be his friend.
When the pair find out that they both share a passion for flying they are overjoyed but even more so when a kindly new neighbour to the estate shows them his beautiful secret, a Spitfire plane flown in the war which is now lovingly taken care of and flown by Archie himself. The Spitfire has a wonderful history to go along with it and Sasha especially is entranced by the love story between a man and a woman in Great Britain at war, the woman Rachel being one of the very first and little known about women pilots who flew Spitfires for the war effort in the 1940’s. Then when riots break out on the estate between Finn’s gang and a rival gang, it pulls together all the characters in ways they never imagined and additionally creates a heart stopping and dangerous moment that reveals how terrifying peer pressure and bullying can really be. As a result, it might even be possible for Sasha and Willem to discover how to fly but not initially in the way they dreamed of.
This book tugged at every single one of my heart strings. Once again, Jane Elson has pulled off a truly mesmerising read that will have you shouting at the page (not this one hopefully…no spoilers here don’t worry!) and re-evaluating how you look at/treat people you come across in your daily life. I know a couple of people with either autism or Asperger’s Syndrome myself and I think Jane has done a stellar job, writing the character of Willem sensitively and accurately. I loved Willem as a character – he has that sort of pure innocence and honesty that we often lose early on in our lives when we become grumpy, cynical old adults. It was quite refreshing for me reading a point of view like this but in another way quite bitter sweet as it can often make that child an easy target for bullies, which is what Willem goes through. I also enjoyed the extra characters and what they brought to the story, in particular Willem’s fiesty Gran (who gives the rioters a run for their money!) the lovely neighbour Archie and even Buster the Staffie who I definitely developed a soft spot for! As with her debut novel, Jane Elson does not hold back, hide away or attempt to side-step difficult or traumatic situations. Bad things happen, the world sometimes is not fair and telling children the truth I think is so incredibly important and is one of the very many reasons why I think Jane Elson is a brilliant author for the little people (and even the big people) in your life.
To see my review for A Room Full of Chocolate click HERE
To check out my interview with Jane Elson click HERE
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):