We'll Fly Away

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
We'll Fly Away Book Poster Image
Teen is sentenced to Death Row in heartbreaking novel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A glimpse of life on Death Row. 

Positive Messages

Violence and revenge are never the answer. You can overcome and move beyond your circumstances, but only if you make wise choices. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Luke has a hot temper and makes terrible, life-shattering decisions, he also behaves in ways that make readers see what might have been. He's a loyal protective friend to Toby and lovingly cares for his two little brothers -- playing with them, making sure they have food to eat, getting them dressed and ready for school, all without any resentment.

Violence

Murder committed by Luke and one by a fellow Death Row inmate are not described in any detail. Toby's father beats him (one instance is vividly related) and has a history of abusive behavior toward his son. Bar fights, a fistfight in high school.

Sex

Both Luke and Toby have first sexual experiences, but readers are given only a few very brief details of the encounters.

Language

A lot of profanity: "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "goddamn," hell." Toby likes to refer to things as being "a d--k hair away."

Consumerism

Characters drink Mountain Dew, eat at the Olive Garden, listen to Elvis and Waylon Jennings. Luke's mother works at a Pepsi plant and Toby drives an El Camino. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Toby's father is an alcoholic, and Luke's mother regularly abuses alcohol. Adults smoke and drink, some scenes take place at a bar. Toby gets so drunk he throws up.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bryan Bliss' novel We'll Fly Away is the story of Luke and Toby, two high school seniors trying to move beyond their neglectful and abusive family lives, only to find themselves making decisions that will end in tragedy. Best friends since childhood, they have big plans for the future. Luke has a wresting scholarship, and Toby plans to come along to study at the same university. But all those hopes are dashed when Luke is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The story unfolds in alternating chapters: Luke's letters from prison to Toby and a third-person account of the months that led up to the murders. Toby's world is often violent (a beating by his father is vividly related), and the details of several murders are noted rather than described. Both boys have first sexual encounters that are briefly glimpsed, and profanity is used often and casually ("f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "goddamn," "hell"). This is a realistic, often grim story that may be tough for some readers, but the content opens wide a door for parents to have serious discussions with teens about life-altering choices.

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What's the story?

WE'LL FLY AWAY is the dream of high school seniors and best friends Luke and Toby. They've even tried (but failed) to restore an old plane in the hope of making a daring escape from their troubled lives in a North Carolina town. Luke's mother has little interest in providing even the most basic necessities for him and his 5-year-old twin brothers, and Toby's father is an alcoholic petty criminal who routinely beats him. Their new escape plan revolves around the wrestling scholarship Luke has received. Toby will follow Luke to Iowa, although he has no idea how he'll pay for his tuition or where he'll live. As the story unfolds, each begins a first love relationship --  Luke with Annie, who does everything she can to support him and help out with the twins; and Toby with Lily, a woman in her 20s that he meets in a bar. Lily sets in motion the events that will end with Luke committing murder. The letters Luke writes to Toby from prison give readers a heartbreaking look at his life on Death Row. He writes of his feelings of isolation and emotional desolation, a friend named Eddie, who's scheduled for execution, a nun who assures him that everyone is capable of a transformation, and a lawyer who believes his sentence was an injustice and tells him that people are working to get him a new sentencing hearing. Readers must wait until the very end of the novel to find out who Luke murders and why he did it.

Is it any good?

A compelling, fast-paced, and gut-wrenching story about loyalty, abuse, first love, and revenge that comes to an unexpected and devastating conclusion. Many readers of We'll Fly Away may find their hearts going out to Luke and Toby, who face such tough odds simply trying to finish high school and begin new lives.

Parents and teens may want to talk about where to place accountability for the tragic events in the novel. How much are Luke and Toby to blame for the choices they make and how much of what happens to them might be the result of coming from abusive and neglectful families?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the choices characters make in We'll Fly Away. What impact do you think Luke and Toby's lives at home had on their decisions? Should any of their behavior be excused because they had an abusive or neglectful parent?

  • Luke is a high school senior when he's convicted of murder. Do you think someone his age should ever be sentenced to life in prison or sent to Death Row? Should a teen who commits a crime as terrible as murder ever be given a second chance?

  • What role do you think alcohol played in this story having a tragic end?

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