The Summer I Learned to Fly



Touching coming-of-age story with some mature themes.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This book's rich story will not only encourage tween and teen reading, but can also get readers thinking about what it means to be a friend, what it means to come of age, what they would do in Drew's place, and more.

Positive messages

There are plenty of coming-of-age themes as Drew learns what it means to be a true friend -- and make her own choices.

Positive role models

Drew makes some dangerous choices -- such as sneaking out of her room at night to help a boy on a quest, and stealing money from her mother's cheese shop -- but her heart is in the right place. She is learning to be a friend, and along the way learning to make her own choices -- and to believe that miracles do happen, even if they happen slowly.


A young teen describes being robbed and having his cheek cut with a razor blade.


There are definitely the beginnings of some feelings between Emmett and Drew; she notices his body when he jumps in the water, and he kisses her between her eyes. Also, Drew has a crush on the older boy at the shop, her friends talk about boys, and she learns her mother is dating someone.


Some minor stuff, like "crap."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some runaway teens smoke, adults drink wine at a party.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the protagonist in this coming-of-age story is a 13-year-old girl who sometimes makes dangerous decisions. Not only does she befriend a runaway teen and hangs out with his friends who smoke and squat in an abandoned barn, but she also sneaks out of her room at night to help Emmett on a quest, and steals money from her mother's cheese shop. But her heart is in the right place; Drew is learning to be a friend, and along the way learning to make her own choices -- and to believe that miracles do happen, even if they happen slowly.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

When Drew spends the summer working at her mother's new cheese shop, she befriends the strange boy who has been eating the leftover food she leaves in the alley behind the store. She has her own complications in life -- including an unrequited crush on an older boy and a mother who seems to be dating again -- but as she learns Emmett's darker secrets, she puts everything on the line for him, risking her relationship with her mother and sacrificing something she really loves.

Is it any good?


The author weaves together many elements to create this tender coming-of-age story. There's the cheese shop, her mother's new mysterious boyfriend, the journal she finds left behind by her dead father, the accident that leaves her crush disabled, Emmett's family tragedy, his quest to find a miracle, and more -- not to mention Drew's many names -- she's also sometimes Robin or Birdie. But the author handles this material expertly, using these varied elements to create Drew's vivid world, and help readers understand her sometimes dangerous choices. Readers may have a hard time believing how emotionally vulnerable the young characters are with each other at times, but they will still be moved by the obvious love they share, especially Drew and Emmett, who learn what it takes to be true friends.  

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about coming-of-age stories. What does this term mean? How is Drew's perspective about life different than it was in the beginning?

  • What makes a hero? Can a book's protagonist be a good role model even if he or she makes dangerous choices, as Drew does here?

  • How concerned should parents be with how characters behave? Does the behavior of fictional characters have any impact on how teens act? What about characters in movies or television shows?

Book details

Author:Dana Reinhardt
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:July 12, 2011
Number of pages:224
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of The Summer I Learned to Fly was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 12 years old September 16, 2012

Beautiful Story

Most of the time I tend to find coming-of-age books pretty boring. But The Summer I Learned To Fly is an amazing masterpiece! Nick is an excellent role model because even after a traumatizing accident, he kept is optimistic attitude and didn't let it get in the way of anything. However, sometimes Drew's mom can be a little annoying and overprotective.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old December 2, 2011

Good story of friendship but the moral isn't okay.

I found the character relationships in this book irritating. The mom is being purposely deceptive to Drew about the fact that she's dating someone, and Drew acts rather obnoxious back. Emmett supposedly cares for Drew, but there is nothing to prove that he truly does, and I really didn't feel like he did: it completely seemed like Emmett was using Drew. Also, there are severe moral and personal value issues in the theme. That Drew runs away on a quest for a boy she doesn't even know is shown as "personal growth," and the story basically says "it's okay to run away and join a group of fanatics." Drew doesn't even believe that what she does will work, but she still runs away to do it. My last complaint was Emmett himself: he bothered me to no end, and that Drew was for some reason convinced that he was the solution to many problems drove me bonkers! I think that most kids will look past these and feel that this story is a sweet story of friendship, but the imbedded morals really need discussion. Also, some people might get bored with the slow pace and ceaseless way Drew does something, and then twists it into something her mom would be okay with her doing.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide