How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson

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How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Lovely story about bullying and gangs, set against a backdrop of rioting on a London estate and featuring a boy with Asperger's Syndrome as a central character. There's a lot going on here but it all ties beautifully together into a realistic but uplifting story that is beautifully written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Hodder
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1444916769

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Willem doesn't usually find homework challenging. He's good at schoolwork. But Mrs Hubert has given him an assignment he's going to find difficult. He must make two friends of his own age. That's tricky when you're on the autistic spectrum and you don't communicate well. It's even more difficult when almost all your classmates join in with Finn when he bullies you and makes you jump from increasingly high places. Sasha is torn. She loves Finn to pieces but she can't bear bullying and she hates herself for not standing up for Willem. And Finn has a secret of his own that's driving his rotten behaviour.

The relationship between these three characters is complicated anyway but it's complicated even further when rioting breaks out on the estate where they live. Can "magic man" Archie, with his music, his love of community, and his old Spitfire plane, bring everyone out of the darkness and into the light?

A lot happens and a lot is covered in How to Fly With Broken Wings. One of the main characters is on the autistic spectrum. Gang culture - and the difficulty of staying out of it - is a big underlying them. There is a riot - clearly based on the London riots of 2011 - and a community clean-up. There's a selfless man who brings healing to a community. There's a teen love story. And the dangerous but intoxicating desire to fly. Phew. Even as an adult reader, I found this book so busy that it was sometimes distracting and not enough time was given to each individual aspect. I do wonder if there isn't just too much to pull together for its middle-grade audience. This might be one for the keener readers.

That aside, there are a huge number of things to like about How to Fly With Broken Wings. Willem has Asperger's Syndrome - although this is never explicitly explained - and this makes him a target for bullying. The story doesn't only portray Willem in a realistic and sympathetic way, it makes him a fully-rounded, interesting character, and it's honest about how difficult it is to stand against bullies when you're not the one being bullied. But it also shows how liberating it is to do just that - it was touching to see Sasha begin to feel better about herself as soon as she decides to take Willem's side.

The writing is elegant and flowing and the observation of the teen and tween mindset is spot on. And, while there is a satisfying resolution, it isn't all chocolate-box pretty. There are consequences and sad things. I think the ultimate message of How to Fly with Broken Wings is that more joins us than separates us and that life isn't perfect but that doesn't mean we should stop trying to make it so.

This is a lovely story. Really, it is. It's a bit chaotic at times. But life's like that, ain't it?

You might also enjoy When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan, whose hero has Tourette's Syndrome. And you shouldn't miss Elson's earlier story, A Room Full of Chocolate by Jane Elson. We were also impressed by Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz. Older readers might appreciate Turf by John Lucas.

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Buy How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson at


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