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Dreaming of Flight


Dreaming of Flight

Fans of Catherine Ryan Hyde will adore her new novel, DREAMING OF FLIGHT, featuring 11-year-old Stewie Little. Stewie's life has been tough. His parents died when he was a baby; his older brother, Theo, has cerebral palsy; and his sister, Stacey, is raising them alone on her salary as a nurse. She works nights, and while she loves her siblings dearly, she has little extra time to parent.

Things were better when Stewie's grandmother was alive. She raised chickens and sold the eggs, and while she wasn't a warm-and-fuzzy type, Stewie's expectations of family were minimal as he never had loving parents at any time in his life. Upon her death, he takes over caring for her chickens and selling their eggs. The money helps with household expenses. He loves the chickens, and they seem to fill a void in his incredibly huge heart.

"How we deal with death, what happens at the end of our lives, how we grieve, with whom we grieve --- all these issues are thoughtfully considered and treated in these pages."

When Mabel, one of the chickens, starts acting ill, Stewie takes her to the local veterinarian. He is appalled when a woman in the waiting room suggests that since the chicken is old and has stopped laying, she should be killed and eaten. In fact, when the vet points out that Mabel has had a long life and probably will pass away soon from natural causes, Stewie is bereft. Determined that she will not die alone, he brings her into his bedroom, makes her a box and wraps her in a blanket. He stays home from school so he will be there for her at the end.

Stacey is concerned that Stewie takes things so much to heart. He feels that it's his job to care for everyone, including the chickens. She arranges for him to see a psychologist, hoping it will help him deal with his emotions. When Stewie ventures outside his usual egg route, he meets Marilyn, an older woman living in a house with a single mother and her young, spoiled daughter. Marilyn somehow reminds Stewie of his own grandmother. Slowly and gradually, Hyde shows us how their relationship progresses to the point that Marilyn starts to care for Stewie.

Part of Hyde’s brilliance is her ability to produce unlikely relationships that not only work, but are emblematic of the relationships we ourselves build with those around us. She creates emotional ties between people who are disparate, but each needy in his or her own way. We learn about Stewie from his thoughts and actions, but also from Hyde's liberal use of dialogue to propel the action forward. When Stewie is concerned that chickens are not laying eggs, he realizes that he didn't ask them nicely enough. "Please lay," he whispers over and over, at least once to each bird. "Please. I'm sorry if I was impolite before. I should've said 'please.'"

How we deal with death, what happens at the end of our lives, how we grieve, with whom we grieve --- all these issues are thoughtfully considered and treated in these pages. In fact, Stewie shares this question, a universal one about love and loss, with his psychologist: "Why even start liking people if they're just going to die?" And the response is the ubiquitous one in which we tell ourselves that it's "better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all." Small comfort, really.

I admire Hyde’s ability to show empathy through the human connection to animals. Stewie is convinced that he can communicate with his chickens, not because they "talk" to him, but because they understand his emotions. He believes that Mabel dies after she hears Stacey say something about his life returning to normal after she’s gone. Those of us who have ever loved an animal will be able to connect with Stewie's feelings on a deep level.

Hyde also touches on the meaning of family. Is family only determined by blood relationships, or is it those whom we choose to include in our circle of trust? Through Stewie's eyes, we realize the importance of having loved ones around us and reaching out to those in need. No one in this story is perfect. But despite our flaws, we are all worthy of love and able to share our love, just as Stewie so beautifully demonstrates.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on June 17, 2022

Dreaming of Flight
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1542021588
  • ISBN-13: 9781542021586