by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
This is the final article in a four-part series about girls, both fictional and real, seeking adventure in the sky.
Jubilation. That is what the 9-year-old heroine of Victoria Forester’s The Girl Who Could Fly expects when her parents discover that she can launch her body off the barn roof, spread her arms, and fly like a bird. But Piper McCloud’s mother, Betty, fears what others will think. Here’s what Betty says:
If the good Lord wanted folks to fly, then he’d have gone and given ‘em wings. That’s what…. That flying ain’t normal. It ain’t natural. Lord above, if the new minister were to see ya, there’s no tellin’ the things he’d preach at us.
Sweet and supernatural
Stepheny Meyer, author of the Twilight series, has called Victoria Forester’s flight of fantasy “the oddest/sweetest mix of Little House on the Prairie and X-men.”
Forester is a Hollywood writer and originally created The Girl Who Could Fly as a screenplay that was optioned by Paramount Pictures. The author notes on her Macmillan homepage that she “loved the story so much” she decided to turn it into a book.
After 25 years of marriage, Betty and Joe—“simple and honest farmers” who “never tempted providence”—are blessed with their first and only pregnancy. But, Betty protests to her doctor, “It’s not the way of things.”
Meanwhile, the small-minded locals of Lowland County begin to make dire predictions about the child to be. They are right that Piper is exceptional. She isn’t even out of diapers before Betty discovers her baby floating in the air and gasps “Lord save us.”
Lord, delight us! Piper McCloud is an exceptional character, and this is a charming allegory about the perils of being gifted.
Flying to catch a fly ball
Langorously lounging on a tree branch, Piper has an epiphany as she observes a nestful of fledglings being nudged into the air by their mother. She realizes that she probably can do more than float. Piper reasons that there is no one to push her out of the nest, so she must do it herself. Hence, the reason for running off the barn roof.
Betty and Joe are obsessively protective of Piper as well as their reputation, both of which are imperiled by local gossip Millie Mae Miller. So by the time Piper is 9 and soaring in the clouds about Lowland County, she has neither attended school nor met any of the neighboring children.
It isn’t long before Piper is dreaming about making her life more exciting by flying around the world.
But seeing that their daughter has become terribly lonely, Piper’s parents relent their rule about avoiding local children and take her to the Fourth of July picnic at church.
Betty and Joe have taught Piper the sensible mantra “Keep your feet on the ground,” but she can’t do it. Catastrophe strikes when the children shun and ridicule her during a baseball game. Thinking that her teammates will be pleased, Piper flies up to catch a fly ball only to discover that her talent is feared.
Finding a place to belong
When word of Piper’s feat leaks to the press, the McClouds are surrounded not only by reporters but also by government agents who persuade the parents that their daughter will be better off at a boarding school for extraordinary life forms including children with rare powers. Piper takes an immediate liking to her unusual new home.
Maybe she wouldn’t need to travel around the world after all. It seemed like everything she was looking for was right there under one roof. There wasn’t a place Piper could set her eyes where a startling and amazing thing wasn’t happening. She caught glimpses of fish that had fur like a leapard, a snake with wings, and something that looked suspiciously like a unicorn.
Things get stranger and more wonderful for Piper as she discovers classmates with gifts including electrical generation, remarkable speed, x-ray vision, mental brilliance, telekinesis, and a joy of life so excessive that the child who owns it can create rainbows.
She also meets the soothing and serenely beautiful Dr. Hellion, who makes Piper feel like she isn’t weird just because she can fly.
Touches of Mash and Cuckoo’s Nest
Parents who read The Girl Who Could Fly with their children may get a kick out of the wordplay, such as Piper McCloud’s aeronautical name, and the characters, including odd government functionaries such as a security official called “Agent Agent” (shades of “Major Major” in the classic war movie M*A*S*H) and Nurse Tolle (shades of Nurse Ratched in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
As with all utopias, there is a problem at Piper’s school, which is known by the puzzling acronym “I.N.S.A.N.E.” The longer Piper stays, the less energy and desire she has to fly.
What is puzzling becomes petrifying when Piper discovers a broad array of strange lifeforms, from a leaping turtle to a rose with teeth to a silver giraffe, all of which are being tortured. What is Dr. Hellion up to?
Connections and conclusions
From the fictional Piper McCloud and Bird McGill to the very real Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart, there are connections to be made among the dreamers and doers in this series, “Girl meets sky.”
Most notably, all heard lots of people say, “Girls don’t do that” in relation to their love of flying and other adventurous passions. (Bessie Coleman faced the extra discouragement of hearing, “Negroes don’t do that.”) Equally notable, they all ignored these negative voices and reached for the clouds.
Who wants to keep their feet on the ground when they get a taste of the sky, a sky that belongs to everyone? Not Piper. “I’m as light as a cloud, as free as a bird,” she sings out in the end of her story. “I’m part of the sky and I can fly.”
Wing on over to the library to find The Girl Who Could Fly and all the other terrific books in this series.
Unidentified flying girl: Click here to enjoy puzzling over an odd YouTube video titled “Flying Girl in Russian Wood.”