Caroline Cooney diversifies her writing portfolio with an inspirational fiction novel for teens. I am unaware of any former ventures on the part of Cooney in writing this type of fiction. If any of my readers know of any such works, please leave them in the comments.
When the novel begins, eight-year old Michael is being told to get out of a car by an unidentified voice. He is being dropped off at the La Guardia airport without breakfast, money, luggage, or a plane ticket. We are then told the unidentified voice belongs to Michael’s father. Michael has grown up living with his mother, stepfather, and brothers and sisters. When he decides to go live with his estranged father, the whole family is worried about him, especially his older sister, 15-year old Lily.
Lily receives the call from Michael, who is trapped in the airport, without any means of helping himself. She doesn’t know what to do. Her mother and stepfather have left to take her older sister, Reb, to college. Lily is alone with Nathaniel, her toddler stepbrother. Finally, Lily, who is not old enough to drive yet, decides to fly herself and Nathaniel to Michael and fly them all back.
The beginning part of the book is suspenseful as we watch Michael trying to survive 4 hours in an airport by himself. He is hungry, tired, and hurt, but he can’t risk telling the police the truth or his Dad might get in trouble.
When the trio gets back home, Michael makes Lily promise not to tell anyone what really happened. Lily promises, and so begins the rest of the story. Lily is a smoking furnace. She is mad at her father but cannot say why. She has no outlet for her anger and so her anger festers inside and escalates to dangerous proportions. At one point, she almost hits another boy her age with a chair. The majority of the book is about how Lily tries to cope with this deep secret.
The family who has no idea what happened, can’t understand why Lily is so upset. Shouldn’t she be happy her brother is home? The different members of her family all feel let down by her: Boring, predictable Kells (her stepfather) doesn’t believe for a second the lame story she tells, Lily’s mom is just happy Michael picked her over the Dad, Nathaniel is hurt that no one believes he went on a plane, and Reb, worst of all, blames Lily for turning Michael against Dad. Lily is the center of this solar system of lies and it tears at her all through the book.
This is a frustrating book to read. It has one of those characters in it that is just blinded by love. Michael loves his Dad without reason, despite what has happened. In turn, his accusations turn to himself and how he let his Father down. It is Michael and Lily who pay the price of their father’s sins.
Lily feels let down by everyone, including God. How can God expect her to honor her Father? Is she expected to forgive him for the terrible wrong he has inflicted on her brother? There are no easy answers in this book. It has a spiritual message but similar to the Melody Carlson books, there is little preachiness to be found. Lily’s distrust and anger to her real father turns to the same for her heavenly Father. This book is about forgiveness and the price of telling a lie to protect someone else.