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The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane

by Polly Horvath

How can you go on living after a devastating personal loss? The teenage heroines of Polly Horvath’s latest YA offering think they know: find some discarded airplane parts, put them together, and simply fly away.

National Book Award-winning author Polly Horvath applies her familiar, gently comic touch to the story of Meline and Jocelyn, bereaved cousins who couldn’t be less alike. This fact is brought into sharp relief when they take up residence with their black-sheep uncle on a remote B.C. island after their parents’ accidental deaths. While self-contained Jocelyn hides behind the stiff upper lip she’s inherited from her British mother, feisty Meline refuses to take tragedy lying down and hatches a plan to escape from weird Uncle Marten’s island retreat.

Horvath effectively reveals the story through the narratives of four characters. Meline, forthright and driven, is obsessed with her plane-building scheme. Jocelyn’s commentary reveals someone who believes that a calm appearance can disguise the chaos beneath the surface. Their uncle’s baffled observations on the sudden change in his lifestyle mask a tragedy of his own. And almost drowning them all out are the Yiddish-heavy ramblings of housekeeper Mrs. Mendelbaum, whose inability to overcome her past, let alone cook a decent meal, underscores the household’s struggles to find hope amid despair.

The characters are so engaging that their voices sometimes overshadow a complicated storyline involving a failed wartime scheme to train pilots, a mysterious new butler, and the overzealous use of Mrs. Mendelbaum’s cough syrup. The twisty plot is finally straightened out, although the loose ends are tied up perhaps a bit too quickly and conveniently to be completely satisfying.

No matter: the real pleasure lies in listening in as Horvath’s quirky characters search for a way to fly above unthinkable pain and ultimately find their own happy endings.