Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

The Blurb On The Back:

Friendship, romance and accepting who you are … that’s a lot for two confused clowns to juggle.

Twins Finch and Birdie Franconi are stars of the flying trapeze.  But when Birdie suffers a terrifying accident, Finch must team up with the geeky new kid.  Hector Hazzard, to form an all-boys double act and save the family circus school.

Can clowning around in the ring help them deal with real life – and face up to how they feel outside the spotlight?  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

14-year-old Finch Franconi lives with his twin sister Birdie, elder sister Wren, younger brother Jay and their parents who run a circus and circus skills training school on the outskirts of the small country village of Little Murragh in Northern Ireland.  Finch and Birdie have a trapeze act and are inseparable, even though their distinctive dress sense makes them a target for school bullies led by Kitty Bond and her Bond Girls.  They’re used to hanging out together, especially as Finch has never recovered from being dumped as a friend by James Keane (who’s dating Kitty Bond and joins in the bullying from time to time) but when Hector Hazzard starts at the school, he’s keen to be friends with them despite Finch’s objections.

With the Franconi Circus in financial trouble, Birdie starts a blog to try and encourage people to sign up for classes and the family and some of the kids at the training school plan to put on a show to earn money to save the business.  When Birdie suffers an accident, the show is put in doubt as Birdie and Finch’s act was supposed to be the highlight.  Hector’s keen to help out but he’s un-coordinated and clumsy and Finch is frustrated both by Hector’s ineptitude and his own growing feelings for him …

Kelly McCaughrain’s debut YA novel is a sweetly told story of romance and the strength it takes to be yourself and although I thought that it had some pacing issues in the first third and the plot is a little hokey, Finch is a well-drawn character – vulnerable and defiant and coming to terms with being gay – and I cared about what happened to him.

The main reason to read this is because Finch is a well-drawn character whose relationships with both his sister Birdie and the bumbling nerd Hector develop and grow over the course of the book.  I particularly enjoyed McCaughrain’s use of Birdie’s blog posts both to flesh out the background to the Franconi family and its circus roots and by using Finch’s reactions to those posts to help him achieve self-discovery (something which is particularly effective when Birdie is in her coma).  McCaughrain is also sensitive when it comes to Finch’s homosexuality – I liked the way he has come to terms with it himself and how she teases this out with regard to his friendship with James, the intensity of which combined with James’s rejection makes Finch reluctant to tell anyone else (although I would have liked a stronger resolution to the Finch and James storyline).

Hector is a similarly well drawn character – a nerd and a bookworm with secrets of his own and a complete lack of basic co-ordination I admired his persistence and his refusal to take Finch’s comments personally without also being a wimp.  I wish that more had been made about his home life as I didn’t quite buy into the reasons given for their move away from Belfast but I enjoyed his friendship with both Finch and Birdie and with his own journey of self-discovery as he finds a circus skill that he’s good at (a scene involving him performing with Finch in a children’s ward at the hospital is particularly well done).

The ‘put on a show to save the circus’ plot is a bit hokey and old-fashioned and if I’m going to nitpick then I’m not sure why that one show was enough to stave off bankruptcy but that’s churlish given that this is more a book about relationships and self-discovery.  In a similar vein, I did find the book a little slow to get going with the first third containing a lot of set-up about the circus and Finch’s friendship with James but once you get past that it moves pretty quickly.

All in all I think this is a good debut that’s LGBTQ+ friendly and I look forward to reading what McCaughrain writes next.

 

FLYING TIPS FOR FLIGHTLESS BIRDS was released in the United Kingdom on 1st March 2018.  Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.

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