Title: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical (70s), Fiction
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.
For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly, who changes everything. Nathan is confident, fearless, impetuous—and fascinated by kites and flying. Robert and Nathan’s budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies, and as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss, they take summer jobs at the local rundown amusement park. It’s there that Nathan’s boundless capacity for optimism threatens to overwhelm them both, and where they learn some harsh truths about family, desire, and revenge.
Unforgettable and heart-breaking, Setting Free the Kites is a poignant and moving exploration of the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship.
Setting Free the Kites by Alex George is a nostalgic yet poignant coming of age novel which takes place on the coast of Maine during the mid seventies.
In 2016, the demolition of a long vacant paper mill is the catalyst for Robert Carter’s recollections of his long ago friendship with Nathan Tilly. The two boys meet in 1976 after Nathan’s family relocates to Haverford from Texas. Thirteen year old Robert notices Nathan right away, but he is more concerned about bully Hollis Calhoun than making new friends. Just as Hollis is visiting a new torture on his poor, beleaguered victim, bold and brash Nathan steps in to rescue Robert. Nathan’s adventurous spirit and indomitable zest for life is the perfect foil for Robert’s more cautious approach to life and the two boys enjoy many fun-filled exploits over the course of their friendship.
The youngest of the Carter sons, Robert is often eclipsed by his older brother Liam who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Their parents dote on Liam while his health deteriorate as his disease worsens. Robert adores Liam yet he is ever mindful of the very different relationships the two boys have with their parents. Not one to rock the boat (or break the rules), Robert tries to keep out of trouble and the limelight since his parents have enough to worry about with Liam’s illness.
Robert’s unexpected friendship with Nathan is one escapade after another as the two boys run free and embark on fun-filled days out of the sight of their parents. Nathan’s unbridled optimism is a stark contrast to Robert’s fears and concerns yet Robert is always quick to overcome his doubts about whatever exploit Nathan proposes. Even in the midst of heartbreaking losses, they manage to find a way to step outside their grief and find happiness in each other’s company. Not even the mundane jobs they undertake at Robert’s family amusement park can put a damper on their exploits but even the strongest bonds can be tested when one of the boys discovers his first love.
While the overall story is incredibly heartfelt and enjoyable, there are a few things that occur toward the end of the novel that need mentioning. Without giving away any spoilers, here are a few observations about the most notable revelations and plot twists. Late in the story, one of the characters does something that is so out of character that is impossible to believe. Heavy foreshadowing from the first chapter hints at one of the events that occurs so it should not come as a surprise to readers once it finally happens. And the final plot twist is an absolute delight and explains an awful lot about one of the secondary characters.
Setting Free the Kites is a very moving novel of friendship that is quite compelling. The coastal setting is harsh yet beautiful Alex George brings it vibrantly to life. Robert and Nathan are wonderfully developed characters that are multi-dimensional and so life-like it is difficult to believe they are fictional. The storyline is engaging and although each family experiences devastating losses, the boys’ adventures and natural resiliency prevent the novel from becoming bogged down in grief. Readers will appreciate the touching epilogue that completely wraps up any loose ends. An extremely heartwarming and engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.