Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories by Ellen Oh

Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us. Flying Lessons & Other Stories includes a variety of characters — from different backgrounds, disabilities, ethnicities, sexualities. And so here’s a look of some of my favorite short stories featured in here:

Sol Painting, Inc. by Meg Medina

Twelve-year-old Merci Suarez is helping her father out at his work the summer before entering her first year at “fancy Seaward Pines School.” Her science loving brother, Roli, is also helping out. And when they arrive at their painting locating for the summer, it turns out to be their newly shared school. But the day takes a turn for the worse when some high school students walk in and destroy the hard work of Sol Painting, Inc. without even a hint of remorse.

“My brother has always been strangely good at reading my mind. Can’t he see how awful it felt to be unimportant, to watch Papi stand there like a chump?
“What did you want Papi to do, Merci? Pitch a fit and blow your free ride?”
Without warning, tears spring to my eyes. He pretends not to notice. Instead, he cups my scalp with his enormous hand and gives a squeeze. “Try to let this idea into your thick cranium. Papi chose to be invisible today so you won’t ever have to be.”

That last sentence really hit hard.

Medina is a great storyteller that managed to really give depth to her characters in such a short amount. With Roli’s passions and Merci’s dedication to the business, I was more than swept into their lives. I hope they receive everything their heart desires.

Main Street by Jacqueline Woodson

I love Woodson’s writing a lot, so I was truly pumped when I saw her as one of the contributors to this collection. Main Street is told from the point of view of a main white character, Treetop, befriending Celeste, who has brown skin in a predominately white town.

“I had never known anyone brown, and Celeste had never lived in a place where brown people didn’t.”

It is a sprawling look at race, harmful stereotypes, childhood friendships, and identity. And that ending left me feeling hopeful for the future.
I was also left wanting more of Jacqueline Woodson’s writing, so I’ve got to get her books into my hands very soon!

Oh, and just to give you an excerpt, here’s one of my favorite passages from the story:

“Last winter the snow fell so long and rose so high, my father hired a man from Keene to plow it. When the man arrived, his huge plow moved silently through the mass of snow. The silence surprised me. How could so much power exist inside such quiet? As I watched, pressing my head against the window, I said to my father, I want to move through the world that quietly. That powerfully.”

I’m in love with Woodson’s way with words.

Flying Lessons by Soman Chainani

About a month ago, Santosh’s sixty-nine-year-old nani informed (not asked) that she would take him on a three-week trip across Europe. “Less than a month later, I am alone on a naked beach.” To say that his grandmother was quite a character would be an understatement.

“In Berlin, she left me stranded in the middle of a dodgy parade. In Marseilles, she paid a fast-talking young cabdriver named Gael to take me out with his wild teenage friends while she shopped for shoes. And yesterday, on our first night in Spain, I dressed up in a suit and combed my hair so I’d look nice for the “theater,” only to end up cowering in the front row at an adults-only burlesque.”

But I ended up liking her so much more than expected, particularly after this next passage:

“Did you take Mom away too when she was young?” I ask later, struggling to crack a stone crab at dinner.
“Your mother is like your grandfather,” Nani says vaguely, already finished shelling and eating hers.
“What’s that mean?” I ask, trying to keep the slippery crab in the silver cracker.
“They’d rather stay home and do work.”
“Yeah, but that’s how they both make money—”
“And what do they do with it?” Nani fires. “Your mother hoards every dime as if she’ll live forever. Your grandfather hasn’t taken me to a movie or dinner or show or anywhere else in fifteen years. ‘We’re old now,’ he says. ‘We’re old.’ ”
“But he lets you spend as much money as you want—”
“Money!” She pounces. “What good is money to a bird in a cage?”

That last sentence left me speechless.

Since this was the title story and my first read by Chainani, I was quite excited to say the least. And the author did not disappoint: the characters were lively, complex, and the dialogue was gripping. And Kamla Sani (the grandmother) speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I loved her.

I appreciate her so much that I need to share this next dialogue, because with one final sentence she managed to shift my whole point of view:

“Do you know why I brought you on this trip, Santosh?”
“So you could get away from Grandpa?”
She lets out a cackle. “No! Well, yes. But no. I brought you on this trip because you win too many awards at school.”
I stare at her blankly. “What?”
“Best in math, best in English, best in debate, history, science, chorus…How many awards can you win? Every year I come to the ceremony and watch you go back and forth to the stage, picking up all the trophies and making me and your mother carry them, because there are too many for you to hold.”
“Nani,” I say, losing patience. “What does winning awards have to do with anything?”
“Because when you’re older, no one cares how many awards you win, Santosh. People care if you have something to talk about. And right now, all you have to talk about are things from books.”16467132I’m not even joking with inserting that gif because that passage really was inspirational for me. Nani notices how receiving those awards year after year doesn’t make Santosh happy as it used to do, and so she offers up some really useful advice that I took to heart.

And as if this story couldn’t get any more hearts from me, it included a LGBTQIA+ storyline!! Props to Nani for fake fainting so that her grandson can talk to the cute boy he likes.

“Come, Santosh, darling,” she wheezes, adding a few hacking coughs, as if while fake fainting she also happened to contract tuberculosis. “Stay with your nani and this handsome boy who rescued me.”

Is there anyone better than her?? Nope…
I know for a fact that I won’t forget her anytime soon. And so I think it goes without saying that Flying Lessons was my favorite short story. (However, I need to have more clarity on that ending!! Help.)

Overall, I’m so glad this collection exist; I need more like it. Flying Lessons & Other Stories is the best thing that’s happened to me this week. And I have nothing but love for it.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Flying Lessons & Other Stories , just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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