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The Discovery of Flight

by Susan Glickman

The Discovery of Flight is about two sisters who write. Twelve-year-old Sophie is keeping a journal for her Hebrew class in preparation for her bat mitzvah, and 16-year-old Libby is penning a secret fantasy story for Sophie’s birthday. The novel is told in their alternating voices.

Sophie’s sections are accessible, funny, and direct as she writes about her day-to-day life. She doesn’t see the point of having a bat mitzvah and complains about learning her Torah chant and writing a speech. She makes friends with a boy and they work on a school project detailing how Christopher Columbus messed up big time. And she longs for a more conventional family life.

The tone of Libby’s passages is more muted; the reader gets to know her solely through the fantasy story she is writing. Libby has cerebral palsy – the only part of her body she can move is her eyes – and uses special computer software that responds when she blinks.

Sophie and Libby have always been very close. In her journal, Sophie describes the scope of Libby’s life: bird-watching expeditions, reading books, watching movies. But Libby’s disease is progressing and she is becoming less and less responsive. Sophie expresses her pain and frustration about her sister’s condition with sharp insight and humour, illustrating her diary with funny drawings. Her narrative – warm, smart, and rebellious – provides the perfect counterpoint to Libby’s haunting, magical story.

Libby’s transcendent, courageous spirit is slowly revealed as her fantasy novel unfolds. After a medieval village is plundered by invaders, the inhabitants try to rebuild their community in another location. During this crisis, a young girl, named Terra, develops a telepathic link with a hawk and learns to see her world from a different perspective. Terra experiences danger, pain, and uncertainty about the future, relying on her inner resources and strength to survive. Meanwhile the hawk, Aya, leads a simple life of hunting and eating, not to mention the wild joy of flight. Being removed and distant from human concerns, Aya doesn’t understand why they make everything so complicated. The novel suggests that Aya represents Libby and Terra is Sophie.

The parallels between Libby’s fantasy novel and her life with her family are at the heart of this beautifully written book. The Discovery of Flight provides a compassionate perspective on a family living with a severely disabled child, but it also tells the funny, poignant story of a 12-year-old struggling with growing pains. Author Susan Glickman brings the voices of the two sisters together in a memorable and transformative ending.