Thursday, December 03, 2009

Review: When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge

For a small moment, I thought maybe seeing the great heron was worth it. But then I saw Pater's face as he saw me, panicked and running into camp, and I wished I could take that thought back. [pg 19]

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge
NAL Accent, 2009
Fiction; 322 pgs
Source: Review copy provided by Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting.

The seeds of a story can come from anywhere: a conversation overheard, the sound of a train rolling by, our own life experiences or even a story heard in the news. Jennie Shortridge was inspired by the true life story of a Vietnam Veteran and his daughter who had been living in the woods for a number of years. The daughter was healthy and well-adjusted, home schooled by her father. They had lived in the wooded park for four years, living off the land. Shortridge's wonderings about their life began to spin together into what would become the novel When She Flew.

After completing When She Flew, I just had to know more about the real life father and daughter who had lived in Forest Park near Portland, if only to know they were okay. While Shortridge's story is very much her own, echoes of Frank and Ruth's story, the real life father and daughter pair, can be seen.

Ray is an Iraqi veteran, disabled and down on his luck. Unable to find work, Ray and his daughter, Lindy, take refuge in the forest of a park in Columbia, Oregon where they end up living for years. One fateful day as Lindy follows a heron, she wanders too far from home and a couple of bird watchers catch sight of her. Her quiet little world is suddenly upended.

Police Officer Jessica Villareal is one of the officers assigned to search the woods for the girl. Recent violent crimes against children have the police force on high alert. They fear for her safety and only want to ensure she is alright. Jess's interest in the girl is twofold, both as a cop and as a mother. She has always played by the rules, tried to do her best on the job and for her daughter. Approaching 40, divorced, and estranged from her daughter who has a child of her own, Jess is doubting herself, doubting the choices she has made throughout her life.

Jess and her colleagues are shocked at what they find in the forest. Ray and Lindy seem happy and strongly connected, and Jess soon realizes that separating them could be the worst thing that could happen to the pair. Her fellow officers and superior do not agree and Jess must make a choice: break up a family or risk her own career to stand up for what she believes is right?

It took me a few pages to warm up to Jess, but I saw that more as a positive than a negative--it fit the character's personality. Jess is the kind of person who does not know how to let people get close to her. On the job especially, she is the consummate professional. And yet underneath that tough exterior lies someone who is has a good heart, but is also lonely and sad. Jess has had to wear a hard shell much of her life, both as a child and as a mother. In trying to protect her daughter she only alienated her more, creating a strain that Jess longed to heal but unsure how. She feels it even more now that she has a grandchild. Her relationship with her own mother is not an easy one and has not been since the death of her father, who died when Jess was a child.

I especially liked the voice of Lindy, the 13 year old girl who had been living in the forest with her father. She seemed so innocent and yet wise beyond her years. She is perceptive and smart. Her father encourages her and loves her, and it shows. It is through her eyes that the reader understands why Lindy and her father are living in the forest and just how strong the bond is between them. My heart ached at the thought of the two of them being separated.

Ray himself is a complicated character. He is a disabled war veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His life has not been an easy one and he bears a lot of guilt. He clearly loves his daughter and wants to do right by her. What he thinks is right, however, may not be what others think is right.

Having read and enjoyed Love and Biology and the Center of the Universe, I looked forward to reading When She Flew. And Jennie Shortridge proves yet again that she has a talent for creating characters that are real in every way but flesh. They are flawed and vulnerable and yet strong and capable. I longed for a happy ending for all the characters, hoping they would find peace. I cared about each of them that much. And I truly hated to see the novel end. Days after finishing the book, I still wonder what Ray and Lindy are up to.

It's not just the characters themselves though that draw me to Shortridge's novels. She tackles the many sides of relationships, putting them under a microscope. The parent/child relationship is one we can all relate to in some way, each of us having parents, some of us having children. Jess's struggles with her own mother mirror those she has with her daughter in some respects. The anger and blame. The self-doubts. The events in the novel prove to be a turning point in their relationships, just as it is for Ray and Lindy. My only complaint is that I wish more time could have been spent on Jess and her daughter, especially near the end. The resolution to their story seemed to come too easily. Even so, that's minor compared to my enjoyment of the book overall.

On a more social scale, When She Flew brings into light the issue of the U.S. war veterans and homelessness as well as those with disabilities and mental health issues, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what of homelessness of parents with children? Shortridge puts human faces to terms and labels we all hear so frequently in the media and our everyday lives.

When She Flew deals with heavy topics but Shortridge's writing is like sitting down with a friend for an afternoon meal. The story flows across the pages and I lost track of time as I read. The novel is both thought provoking and entertaining. Definitely worth reading.

Now to remember to set the book near my purse Monday morning so I'll remember to take it with me. I think this is one my boss will really like as well.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Check out the author's website for more information about her books.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I've heard nothing but good about this book. She seems to cover so many issues, but with humanity and reality in mind. Excellent review Wendy! You've convinced me to write this one down!

  2. Great to read yet another positive review on this book. Looking forward to read this book. Thanks

  3. Thank you so much for the insightful review of my book, Wendy! I do think the true story fascinates so many of us, and I just wanted to try to figure out the whys and hows and wheres of it all, without invading the real people's lives. My story isn't their truth, but it is a kind of truth, I hope.

  4. This sounds like an amazing book and the fact that it was inspired by a true story adds to its appeal for me. I squealed when I saw the wonderful comment from the author!

  5. We're posting our reviews of this book on the same day! Excellent review, Wendy. But yours trumps mine, since you got a visit from the author :-).

    I'm glad I read this one - it was more than I expected, which is a very nice thing. I actually related to Jess for a number of reasons, and I liked Lindy's voice.

    I suspect that if this weren't based on actual events, it would seem too far-fetched, but that's why truth can be stranger than fiction, I guess. I'm impressed that you followed up on the real vet and his daughter, Wendy!

    (Aside: the word-verification for this comment is "blech." Seriously. That does not apply to the novel, though!)

  6. I just received this one a few days ago and I sincerely can't wait to read this one!

  7. I want this book! You did an excellent job with the review, Wendy!

  8. I've Love and Biology and the Center of the Universe in my pile! Looks like I've to add this to it too! ;)

    Thanks for the great review, Wendy!

  9. Shortridge writes such great, realistic characters. I can't wait to read this one!

  10. I have a vague recollection of the true story this book is based on. I like the premise of the book and it sounds like a good one!

  11. I just finished this tonight - and I liked it very much, too - even rated it the same number of stars as you! I loved Lindy's character so much - and I especially loved how Shortridge showed that education can happen in a lot of different ways.

  12. What a great review Wendy. This really sounds like something I would enjoy reading.

    ps-Keep an eye on your mailbox next week...

  13. This sounds fantastic...I look forward to reading it! I also like that it sounds different from the author's previous books.

  14. It sounds like an interesting concept. I don't think I'd want to live in the wild but it would certainly be better than living on the streets.

  15. Wendy, great review. Sounds like a winner. It's a great thing when a book can take on serious issues and still be readable and keep your attention. :-)

  16. Ohmigosh, your review makes this book sound amazing! I would never have guessed its story from the title or the cover. I am definitely putting this on my wishlist. I agree that homelessness in veterans is often overlooked- I remember my history teacher telling me that a staggering percentage of Vietnam vets are homeless and it is so sad to know that.

  17. I;ll be reading and reviewing this one as well.

  18. Sandy - This book does take on a lot of issues and it works--at least I think so. I like the way you put it--"with humanity and reality in mind." That's it exactly.

    Diane - I do hope you get a chance to read it, Diane!

    Kathy - I hadn't realized it was based on a true story initially. It definitely adds a new dimension to the novel.

    Florinda - I love that we ended up posting our reviews on the same day. :-) Thank you for your kind words. I really liked your review and thought you touched on quite a few good points.

    That's too funny about the word verification. Some of the ones I come across almost seem preplanned sometimes. "Blech" definitely wouldn't be a word I'd use to describe this book though. :-)

    Staci - I look forward to reading your thoughts on it, Staci!

  19. Jennie - Thank you so much for stopping by! I find myself often wondering about the whys and hows when I hear a true story that moves me in some way. You've done such a good job of putting together one possible scenario. You have a true gift for creating characters that feel so real and whose lives I feel a part of as I read.

  20. Alice - Thank you, Alice. I do hope you get the opportunity to read it.

    Melody - Do read Love and Biology soon! I'd love to hear your thoughts on that one. I really enjoyed it. More than I thought I would, actually.

    Lisa - I agree! Her characters are so real. I hope you will like this one when you get to it.

    Kathleen - It really is an interesting premise. I think the author did a good job with it.

    Carrie - I am glad you liked this one too. :-) Lindy was such a sweetheart. She was so strong, wasn't she? My heart ached for that girl and all she'd been through.

    Dar - Thank you! I think you'd like it too. :-)

    I'll be watching my mailbox. Thanks so much! Book bloggers are so generous!

  21. Jill (Softdrink) - I hope you will enjoy it when you read it!

    Jen - The world Ray created for he and Lindy was amazing. Except for the cold and lack of indoor plumbing, their life didn't seem to so bad. :-)

    Marie - Thank you. I really enjoyed this one. As serious as the subject matter was, the book didn't have that heavy feel to it, which I definitely think will appeal to readers who may not have read a book like this otherwise.

    Aarti - I do hope you'll like it, Aarti, if you get the chance to read it. It really is sad the number of homeless veterans there are out there and the limited services available to help them after a war.

    Serena - I look forward to reading your review of it, Serena.

  22. I am not familiar with Jennie Shortridge but I am now anxious to read this book and her others. It sounds to me as if the dad and daughter's relationship is handled in a wonderful way especially as the dad is disabiled and has PTSD. I also very much like the fact that the author's casts a light on the issues of war vet disability and PTSD, both are still misunderstood in society and often people with them are mis-treated by individuals.
    I am so glad you've brought this book to my attention and I am now going to enjoy Jennie Shortridge's guest post!

  23. Amy - The author took on quite a few important topics in her novel and did it very well, I think. I hope you do get a chance to read this one!


Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating all comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.