"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 19, 2012
Girls Don't Fly: Self-discovery and Connection
by Erin Cowles

Speculative fiction dominates the YA market right now, but many authors are writing great YA stories that could actually happen to a modern teenager. Today, I want to take a break from totalitarian regimes and time travel and talk about a contemporary YA book that I recently read and enjoyed: Kristen Chandler's Girls Don't Fly.

Senior Myra Morgan thought life was going well. She had a popular and charming boyfriend, plans to attend dental hygiene school after college, and a penchant for creating order in her life. But when her boyfriend dumps her and her sister's medical expenses for an unplanned pregnancy claim the money Myra's parents had saved for her schooling, Myra realizes she needs to create a new path for herself.

She decides to compete against her ex-boyfriend for a scholarship to study in the Galapagos Islands, at first to escape her current depressing situation. However, as she works on her proposal and raises the money to apply, she discovers her own talents, passions, and possibilities.

At first, this book felt like a standard “girl gets dumped and reinvents herself” book. What set it apart from other self-discovery books is the lack of selfishness typical of the genre. Rather than cutting ties with the people that limit her and focusing entirely on herself, Myra's path to self-discovery eventually includes her dysfunctional family.

Her family takes her sacrifices for granted, demands too much from her, and always puts her needs last. But Myra recognizes that her family does loves her and makes plenty of sacrifices of their own. She chooses to continue to sacrifice for her family and grow within it, instead of outside of it. When the stakes are high, she puts her family above herself, and through doing so, her family comes to truly understand and value her.

I also like that Myra develops into a stronger version of who she already is, rather than leaving all her liabilities behind. Myra loves order and control, and I expected part of her reinvention to involve embracing messiness.

Although there are notable exceptions where she puts those feelings aside for the greater good, she learns to use her attention to detail and ability to calm chaos to open doors and save the day. She also maintains her willingness to help others, but finds a way to pursue her own interests in the process. Rather than leaving these parts of herself behind, she finds a way to integrate them more successfully into her life.

I enjoyed the way Chandler incorporated scientific themes into her plot development. We see evolutionary concepts in Myra's development, and Chandler frames the subject matter of each chapter around behaviors of the birds Myra studies for her proposal. I appreciated Chandler's ability to use these concepts creatively without twisting her story to fit the frame.

This is a great coming of age story. Myra learns to accept love without being dependent on it, help her family while still helping herself, and sacrifice to follow her passions.

Read this book if …

  • You've been dumped and need to be reminded life gets better, but listening to Britney Spears' “Stronger” on repeat isn't your style.
  • You need to take your life in a new direction, but you want the people who depend on you to be part of that journey.
  • You like examples of women succeeding in the sciences.

Target Audience: Girls, ages 12-18.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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