A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Information on concussions and their aftereffects, including rehab and lingering physical issues. Insight into what is required to train and perform at elite levels of football and cheer. Jewish synagogue services and culture explained. Lots of information on social justice and activism, including history, connections between organizations, how much work is involved, and personal fallout some people experience when they voice their opinions.
Friendship sometimes requires work, such as talking through issues, apologizing when you're wrong, and being supportive of your friends. You don't have to go through tough time alone. It's OK to seek help through therapy and support groups. Leadership is about more than being the best at something or being popular; you need to lead by example and consider the well-being of those you're responsible for. Things might not always work out as planned, so try to be flexible and have back-up plans. Speak out when you see you injustice.
The book has two authors, one Black and one White. Main characters Leni and Nelly are strong, smart young women. Nelly and Three are Black, and Leni's Jewish. A handful of minor characters are presented as Black. There's one lesbian couple, but they don't feature much in the book. The story highlights what social justice work looks like and how to center the work and conversations on the people the activism is intended to help. It also shows the ways minority students are singled out for punishment far more than their White peers are.
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Violence & Scariness
Cheerleading injuries -- concussion and ankle injury -- described but not in detail. Characters receive some racist and antisemitic hate comments online.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Crushes, attraction, and dating figure into the storyline. Characters kiss and make out, but nothing too graphic is described. A few references to characters having had sex, but nothing is shown or described, besides teens lying in bed together. Story shows the double standard in the way sexually active boys are treated vs. the way girls are treated.
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Infrequent strong language, including "s--t," "ass," "bulls--t," "dammit," "God," "damn," "hell," "butt," "pissed," "slut," "crap," "bitch," and "balls."
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Products & Purchases
Several media companies and brands mentioned, mostly for scene setting, including, iPad, iPhone, MacBook, FaceTime, Netflix, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Google, SnapChat, Uber, GoPro, FitBit, VW, Lexus, Subaru, CamelBak, REI, LaCroix, Coke, Monster Energy, and SiruxXM.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One character has a marijuana vaping problem. Otherwise, no other smoking, drinking, or drug use. Adults lock up alcohol before teens have a party.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Why We Fly, by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal (I'm Not Dying with You Tonight), is about two cheerleaders who find themselves in the middle of controversy when they take a knee on the sidelines before a football game. Nelly and Leni are longtime best friends who've worked hard to make their cheer squad one of the most competitive in the nation. As senior year starts, they're focused on winning nationals and getting into college. Inspired by a football star alum who is in the news for taking a knee during the national anthem, they do the same and, in the process, upend their personal relationships and possibly their futures. The story looks at race (Leni is White, Nelly is Black), privilege, the hard work and personal cost of activism, and the pressure on teens to achieve at all costs. Friendships and family dynamics also come in for examination in the story. Even though the book deals with serious topics, it never gets too intense. There's some mild, infrequent swearing ("s--t," "ass," and "damn") and the romance angle isn't graphic or steamy. One character has an issue with marijuana use, but it becomes a teachable moment. Otherwise, there is no smoking, drugs, or alcohol use.
Is It Any Good?
This story of Black and White best friends working through issues related to racism, social justice, and privilege has some great messages but falls flat in the end. In Why We Fly, authors Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal try to tackle a little too much in one story, including friendship, romance, family dynamics, pressure to achieve, racism, activism, and drug use. The result is that some important topics and interesting plot tensions get hurried and unsatisfying resolutions. The book does a great job of showing what effective activism looks like and how people need to think through the possible consequences of their actions. It also provides an accurate look at the bittersweet nature of high-school friendships as graduation and diverging post-graduation paths loom. But the friendship between Leni and Nelly never rings true, and the characters themselves are one-dimensional and hard to root for. Much of the dialogue feels forced and isn't authentic to the ways teens talk. Why We Fly is a worthwhile read and will get kids thinking over some important issues, but the overall execution is lacking.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.