What’s there not to love about magical realism? The Year I Flew Away reminded me why this genre is so beloved against the backdrop of 1980’s Brooklyn, featuring a memorable young heroine named Gabrielle.

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The summary, from Amazon:

In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK.

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell.

Gabrielle is a funny and engaging heroine you won’t soon forget in this sweet and lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Hurricane Child and Front Desk.

Buy The Year I Flew Away here.

Gabrielle’s parents send her from Haiti to live in Brooklyn with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. Her parents plan to follow in some months, but want to send Gabrielle now. Gabrielle is so excited to move to America, but once she starts school, she feels like she will never fit in.

Then, Gabrielle meets a witch who offers her three wishes. If Gabrielle makes all three wishes, the witch will be granted her essence. Gabrielle plans to stop at just one – to speak English perfectly. But she soon realizes that not even speaking the language will make the other kids think she is truly American.

Gabrielle makes some friends along the way, including Carmen, a friend from school, and Rocky, a rat who wants to be a rabbit. These two help her on her journey to make her wishes come true, all while outsmarting the evil witch who wants her essence.

I found the dialog to be stilted at times, and I wanted to see more of Gabrielle’s magic. We see early in the novel that she has a magical sort of empathy, but it isn’t touched on very much again. However, the fun magical realism and the moral of this tale far outweigh any of its flaws. I rate it 4 stars and thank NetGalley for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Update: In retrospection, the end of this was really rushed and high stakes. This still was such a great read. What was done well was done SO WELL.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

The Year I Flew AwayThe Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fun, fast-paced read with a smart, funny, and independent heroine. I did find some of the conversations to be stilted and wanted more detail in some areas, but what was good about this story – the message and fun magical realism – outshone its flaws.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Would Carmen have been Gabrielle’s friend even without that first wish?
  2. What do you think Brooklyn would be like in a world where Lady Lydia wins?
  3. Is Rocky’s wish to be a rabbit similar to Gabrielle’s wish to fit in in America? How so? How is it different?
  4. Do you think all of the magic was real in the context of this story, or was some of it a metaphor? Which parts might have been Gabrielle’s way of explaining a situation rather than what actually happened, or was it all magic?

Interested? Buy The Year I Flew Away.
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