Why We Fly

  • Review
By – December 6, 2021

Writ­ten with a light touch, a believ­ably diverse cast of char­ac­ters, and sev­er­al deft­ly han­dled, impor­tant mes­sages, Why We Fly pro­vides a glimpse into the ener­getic, some­times dan­ger­ous, and always excit­ing world of high school cheer­lead­ing. Jeal­ousy, intense com­pe­ti­tion, social pres­sures, chang­ing friend­ships, and fam­i­ly con­cerns are woven into the lives of the three appeal­ing and nuanced pro­tag­o­nists: Leni, who is recov­er­ing from two con­cus­sions that were the result of her cheer­lead­ing stunt work; Chanel, who sets high goals but needs to learn how to man­age stress in a healthy way; and Samuel, nick­named Three, who is a ris­ing foot­ball star with par­ents who are deter­mined to see him even­tu­al­ly make it to no less than the NFL, with no dis­trac­tions allowed.

The lives of these three high school seniors are set against a back­drop of social and polit­i­cal upheaval; a promi­nent NFL star, who is an alum­nus of their school, has made nation­al news by stag­ing a dra­mat­ic protest on behalf of fair­ness and jus­tice — he has tak­en a knee” dur­ing the singing of the nation­al anthem at a nation­al­ly tele­vised game, and every­one is talk­ing about it.

Leni, white and deeply Jew­ish­ly iden­ti­fied, is now the cap­tain of the cheer squad and is moved to have her team­mates sup­port this alum by hav­ing the cheer squad kneel dur­ing the anthem at their next game. Chanel and Three, both black, are sup­port­ive up to a point but have seri­ous reser­va­tions about this course of action. They under­stand the real-world con­se­quences that may ensue. When the team kneels and Chanel tweets the news out into the dig­i­tal uni­verse, forces larg­er than the friends ever antic­i­pat­ed begin to crash down upon them. he school admin­is­tra­tion is livid, their coach is pow­er­less to help, their par­ents are wor­ried about their futures, inter­net racism and anti­semitism snow­ball, and their uni­ty as a team begins to crack. Col­lege accep­tances are loom­ing as well; deci­sions made now will most cer­tain­ly affect their futures.

There are some sup­port­ive adults who are sources of assis­tance and strength; Three­’s aunt, a pro­fes­sor of African-Amer­i­can stud­ies at a near­by uni­ver­si­ty, and Leni’s rab­bi, a close fam­i­ly friend who had pre­pared her for her bat mitz­vah, are reli­able sources of advice. Both these adults are glad to pro­vide some per­spec­tive. The pro­fes­sor and the rab­bi inspire Leni to vol­un­teer for social action caus­es. Her bud­ding romance with Three, the deci­sions regard­ing her future, and her chang­ing reliance on one close friend begin to meld into a new set of val­ues as she begins to mature. Chanel begins to real­ize that the for­mer goals she clung to with tenac­i­ty may not be the only ones that can pro­vide a pro­duc­tive path to her future.Three begins to under­stand that his par­ents’ goals may become his own and may be worth striv­ing for as he becomes his own, more con­fi­dent man.

The writ­ing team of Jones and Segal brings an inter­est­ing dual per­spec­tive to the sto­ry. The voic­es of the char­ac­ters feel authen­tic and true. The book is a wor­thy addi­tion to the young adult book­shelf leav­ing the read­er much to think about and, per­haps, dis­cuss with fam­i­ly and friends.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions