April 02, 2014

The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden

by Philippa Dowding
200 pp.
Ages 8+
January, 2014

"This morning I wake up on the ceiling." (pg. 9)

Between this first line and the book cover of The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, readers will tweak in pretty quickly what Gwen's "gift" is.  But, with all the weird things already happening in her life, mostly the supremely outlandish changes that puberty brings, Gwen's attitude is quite refreshing:
"So what's a little early-morning floating around your room compared to that?" (pg. 11)
Gwen doesn't tell her mother who has enough to worry about since Gwen's dad died seven years ago during a freak storm, just before the twins, Christine and Christopher, were born.  But a couple of peculiar questions from the elderly bottle-collector, Mr. McGillies ("How's flyin'?" pg. 25) and Mrs. Forest at The Float Boat candy store who knows that floats make Gwen sick ("Are you ready for a float?" pg. 50) has Gwen freaking out just a little.  When her foot starts floating upward during class and Gwen has to make a mad dash to a supply room to hide her new aerial buoyancy, she comes clean to her best friend, Jez, who is able to offer her some support and cover.

Courtesy of her Mentor, Mrs. Forest, and her Watcher, Mr. McGillies, Gwen learns that she is a Night Flyer, receiving a copy of  "Your First Flight: A Night Flyer's Handbook", the "Micro-Edition for the Less-than-Willing Reader".  She could certainly have used the extended version because Gwen starts going out on her own, taking chances and making some embarrassing choices, even getting in trouble with the law. But she's got some tough learning ahead of her if she doesn't want her flying to turn from a gift to a handicap.

Middle-grade readers will know Philippa Dowding's earlier books, including this year's Silver Birch Express nominee The Gargoyle at the Gates (Dundurn, 2013), and appreciate the humour and relaxed pacing of her stories.  The twists, the turns, the flips, the floats are all there to take the reader for a wonderful flight of fancy, and gently alight in Gwen's new reality and unfolding future.  With The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden hinting at an important choice that Gwen must make, readers may be able to share in that future.

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