The Summer I Learned to Fly

The Summer I Learned to Fly

4.8 10
by Dana Reinhardt, Shannon McManus

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Drew's a bit of a loner. She has a pet rat, her dead dad's Book of Lists, an encyclopedic knowledge of cheese from working at her mom's cheese shop, and a crush on Nick, the surf bum who works behind the counter. It's the summer before eighth grade and Drew's days seem like business as usual, until one night after closing time, when she meets a strange boy in the

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Drew's a bit of a loner. She has a pet rat, her dead dad's Book of Lists, an encyclopedic knowledge of cheese from working at her mom's cheese shop, and a crush on Nick, the surf bum who works behind the counter. It's the summer before eighth grade and Drew's days seem like business as usual, until one night after closing time, when she meets a strange boy in the alley named Emmett Crane. Who he is, why he's there, where the cut on his cheek came from, and his bottomless knowledge of rats are all mysteries Drew will untangle as they are drawn closer together, and Drew enters into the first true friendship, and adventure, of her life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Reinhardt (The Things a Brother Knows) traces the friendship formed between two lonely adolescents in this atmospheric novel set in California during the 1980s. Thirteen-year-old Drew first runs into Emmett, a scraggly, slightly older boy, when she is looking for her lost pet rat in the alley behind her mother's gourmet cheese shop. Though reluctant to talk about himself, Emmett draws Drew into his world, eventually confiding his secret dream: to find a legendary spring with healing powers. Betraying her mother's trust by running away from home, Drew accompanies Emmett on an eye-opening journey to find the magic waters, during which she learns some bittersweet lessons about love and sacrifice. Laced with mystery and fascinating details about Drew's chief interests—rats and cheese—this quiet novel invites readers to share in its heroine's deepest yearnings, changing moods, and difficult realizations. Strong imagery, such as a description of the Golden Gate Bridge—"First faint and blurred like a watercolor painting, and then strong and vibrant, an electric red against a pale blue sky"—will stay with readers. Ages 12–up. (July)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, May 23, 2011:
"Laced with mystery and fascinating details about Drew's chief interests—rats and cheese—this quiet novel invites readers to share in its heroine's deepest yearnings, changing moods, and difficult realizations. Strong imagery...will stay with readers."
Children's Literature - Sue Poduska
Although the heroine of this story is only thirteen, the themes of teen angst, young love, and breaking away are very much young adult. Drew and her mother are struggling to make ends meet while running a newly opened gourmet cheese shop, and Drew is coming to the realization that her mother has problems, too. Meanwhile, her crush on Nick, her mother's twenty-year-old helper and a part-time surfer, is not working out the way Drew had hoped. She is beginning to see the relationship as the impossible situation it is. She takes her pet rat everywhere, including the cheese shop. When she meets a mysterious boy, Emmett, seemingly living off the leftovers from the cheese shop, her world suddenly spins out of control. She must help Emmett, come to terms with her mother, and somehow get to know her dead father. The story is compelling, with plenty of twists and great characters. Even the minor characters have a lot of personality. Reviewer: Sue Poduska
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Eighteen-year-old Drew Robin Solo, or Birdie, as her family calls her, tells about the year she was 13, when her widowed mother opened The Cheese Shop. Birdie works there (unpaid) with her mother; Swoozie; and Nick, a surfer who has a way with both artisanal pasta and all machines. Once school ends, she plans on working full-time until her mother tells her that, even if she were not too young to employ, she just could not afford her because the shop is barely making money. Birdie still comes in, bringing along her pet rat on the sly, largely to spend time with Nick, who makes her feel "fluttery" even though he's college age. At the end of most days, she takes the bread, pasta, and cheeses that are too old to sell and puts them out by the Dumpster. It's there that she meets a boy slightly older than she, who introduces himself as Emmett Crane. Over the next couple of weeks she and Emmett get to know each other. She also learns that her mother is dating someone, and that she wants to make her own "Book of Lists" like the one she found belonging to her dad. Ever steady, reliable Birdie slowly comes to realize that Emmett is a runaway. He finally admits it, but it is because he is in search of a miracle to help his family. He wants to find a hot spring that was part of a Native American legend his father read to him. He feels that if he jumps into this spring his father will come back to the family and his younger brother will get well. Birdie agrees to help him with his quest and to leave her comfort zone in the process. Reinhardt has written another book that will resonate with any readers learning to spread their wings and fly.—Suanne Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
Kirkus Reviews

In the lazy days of summer in a California coastal town, Drew works at her mom's struggling cheese shop and indulges her crush on an older co-worker, until she discovers Emmett and becomes involved in his very different world.

Drew and her mother have been a team for all the years since her father died, with pet rat Humboldt Fog as a companion. Thirteen-year-old Drew finally begins to separate and grow into her own person in this crucial summer. When mysterious, romantic Emmett appears, Drew finds herself holding her breath till she sees him and summing up her day as just "fine" to her mother. Emmett is on his own, and Drew (or Birdie, as her mother calls her) finds herself questioning her values and making new friends as she grows closer to him. This is not drastic or world-changing but a natural emergence of independence. Drew's journey into self-knowledge unfolds in a lucid voice that is thoughtful and entertaining without being showy. Emmett's history is painful but not unlikely or shocking.There is a hint throughout of being a step removed that balances the immediacy of the events being related and the power of hindsight.Drew and Emmett's ultimate quest for a miracle and the unquestioning belief in the magic needed for it adds just that touch of innocence and naiveté that is needed to make the ending poignant.

Quiet yet immensely appealing.(Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Grand Opening

For some people it's the smell of sunblock. Or pine trees. A burnt marshmallow from the embers of a campfire. Maybe your grandfather's aftershave.

Everyone has that smell. The particular scent that transports you, even if only for an instant, to the long-ago, faraway land of your childhood.

For me, it's the smell of Limburger. Or Camembert. Sometimes Stilton. Take your pick from the stinkiest of cheeses.

My mother's shop was on Euclid Avenue. But believe me, it's not the Euclid Avenue you know now, with thirty-dollar manicures and stores that sell nothing but fancy soap in paisley paper.

Back then Euclid Avenue was the kind of place where a kid like me could find something to spend fifty cents on. And I did, almost every day, at Fireside Liquor. It was the summer of 1986 and I wasn't buying alcohol; I was only thirteen. But fifty cents bought me a Good News: peanuts, caramel, chocolate. The red label declared it Hawaii's Favorite candy bar, an odd claim, but one that made it seem, and even taste, exotic.

I'd never been to Hawaii. I'd never been anywhere to speak of. We didn't have much money, only what we got from Dad's life insurance policy, and what we did have had all gone into the Cheese Shop.

That's what it was called. The Cheese Shop. No stroke of brilliance in the creativity department, but the name said what it needed to say: Come inside and you'll find cheese. Any sort you can imagine.

On the day we opened, Mrs. Mutchnick, who owned the fabric store across the street, a grandmotherly type with her hair barely holding on to its ever-present bun, brought over a gift. It was a most unexpected opening-day gift. Not flowers. Not champagne. And I couldn't possibly have guessed when I unwrapped it (because Mrs. Mutchnick presented it to me) that this gift would come to change my life.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, there was the issue of the health inspection.

There are basic requirements. Things one must do in order to open a store that sells food.

Keep your shop clean. I mean truly clean, not what you try to pass off when your mom looks at your room, with everything shoved in a drawer or under your bed. You must keep your establishment absolutely spotless.

Have running water, hot and cold, and a working restroom.

Your freezer must be a certain temperature, which is different from the temperature you must keep the refrigerated cheese cases, which is different from the temperature you must keep the shop itself.

And generally, things need to smell good, which is easy enough, unless you happen to be in the business of selling stinky cheeses.

This is precisely where we ran into trouble with the inspector.

He'd enter the shop nose first, as if it, and not his pea-sized brain, were in charge of the rest of him. He came around often, too often, in the days leading up to the opening, rapping his clipboard on the shop front window and doing a little wave with his spindly fingers.

His name was Fletcher Melcher. I know it sounds like I'm making that up, but I'm not. And I'm not making up the forest of hair that lived in each of his nostrils either.

We called him Retcher Belcher, about as inspired as calling Mom's store the Cheese Shop, and he almost succeeded in keeping the shop from opening, which seemed to be his very purpose for walking the planet.

The day before we were to sell our first wedge of cheese, the freezer decided to stop working. And who should arrive only moments after we'd realized this? Right. The Belcher.

I'd taken the bus to the shop. Mom had arranged for me to ride a new bus from school, one that took me to the vicinity of the store rather than our small house not far from the beach. Nobody talked to me on this new bus, but that wasn't much of a change from what it was like to ride the old bus.

I was coming from Fireside Liquor, about to open my Good News, and I could see through the storefront window that Mom was in a state.

She was all flailing limbs. Her usually short and spiky hair had taken on that puffy look it got when she ran her fingers through it obsessively. She was yelling at Nick while he stood by and took it calmly, as only someone in possession of two particular qualities could.

One: Nick was unflappable. Some people would attribute this to the proximity of Fireside Liquor. But Nick wasn't a drunk; he was a surfer, just turned nineteen. Mellow to the max.

Two: Even if he knew almost nothing about cheese, Nick could fix practically anything.

The bell jingled as I walked through the front door. A sound that would later come to drive me mad.

"Drew," he said, and he put both of his hands on my shoulders. He fixed his green, sea-glass eyes on mine. "Thank God you're here."

His third outstanding quality: Nick Drummond was impossibly good-looking.

"Get your old lady under control, will you? Take her outside for some fresh air. Or maybe even a smoke." And with that he disappeared into the freezer.

This was Nick's stab at humor. Mom didn't smoke. Except for her love of cheese, she was pretty much a health nut. She did yoga. She meditated. She wore an earthy-smelling perfume, except when she was at work, because Mom believed that nothing should interfere with a customer's right to freely whiff the cheese.

"We're up a creek," she said.

"Chill out, Mom. It's gonna be cool." I'd only known Nick about a month, since we'd started getting the shop ready to open, but I was already perfecting his lingo. Anything to make him notice me.

"No, Drew. It's not gonna be cool. Fletcher Melcher is on his way. Daisy called. He's just asked for his check."

Daisy owned the diner three blocks up. That the Belcher was taking his lunch there could only mean one thing: he was on his way to us. He had it in for Mom and the shop, and every merchant on Euclid Avenue knew it.

"Nick'll take care of it," I told her. "He can do anything."

Mom reached over and stroked my hair. She smiled at me wistfully. "Oh Birdie, you're too sweet."

She walked behind the counter, grabbed an oversize wheel of Jarlsberg, and cut us each a slice. A disconcerting clanging came from inside the walk-in freezer. Mom winced. I pointed to the slice in her hand, then pointed to her mouth. She took a bite.

Jarlsberg: the comfort cheese.


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