Review – ‘The Year I Flew Away,’ From Haiti to Brooklyn in a Search to Belong

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The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

This middle grade novel introduces us to Gabrielle, a young Haitian girl, who must travel to America without her parents.

It’s 1985 and coming to New York is as difficult as you may imagine. However, what she doesn’t expect is the witches.

In Haiti, ghost stories, deep emotions, and suspicious witches are all part of the culture. Gabrielle here feels confident; she knows she must never strike a deal with a witch, even if, as Lady Lydia does, the promise is a good deal that may cost her almost nothing.

However, there are many setbacks to an immigrant child, the ones we are too familiar with: the inability to communicate, the difference of clothes, foods, and all the little nuances that make you unique, plus the bullying that never stops and just wants you to fit in as “normal.”

Now what about speaking perfect English? Gabrielle is too tempted not to jump at the chance. What she doesn’t see coming is her sudden inability to speak Haitian Creole. “A little price to pay,” the witch says, but what better defines our essence if it’s not our language and our culture?

Now, Gabrielle has an ability, one she already displayed back in Haiti. She can feel and fix things normal doctors wouldn’t be able to feel, like when Mrs. Almé is so struck by grief that she starts to unravel and fall:

“Madame Tita, I know what’s wrong!” I shout.

“Then help her, Gabrielle!”

Suddenly, I’m standing on a bluff. Below me is the raging, wrathful river. The wind howls in my ears and the cold air whips through my nightgown. It makes my whole body tremble.

Mrs. Almé’s body is being picked up and thrown around by the current.

She’s going under!

Not if I can help it!

“Night River, you can’t have her!” I shout as I leap off the bluff and down into the abyss. The river fights me, but I stay strong. I wrestle and punch at the waves. I dive deeper and deeper down into the freezing river.

I see Stephanie’s mom. She is about to sink into the floor of the river. I swim down to her and latch onto her nightgown. Together we head toward the surface.

Suddenly, something with tentacles grabs hold of her ankle and wraps around it. I know what the creature is—an octopus. But not just any kind of octopus. This one feeds on loss and loneliness. But I won’t let it get her. I hold her face in my hands and concentrate.

I focus on the one thing that could fight off the creature—memory.

Now, Gabrielle must fight back and reverse the spell. She has two friends: one, a Mexican girl called Carmen and the other… a talking rat named Rocky, who is pretty funny. In her quest to recover a part of herself, she will realize that accepting an opportunity does not mean she has to leave everything that defines her identity behind.

Also, there is more than one kind of witch in 1985’s Brooklyn…

The Year I Flew Away is on sale since February 2, 2021.

Price: $16.99
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publish Date: February 2, 2021
Pages: 256
Type: Hardcover
EAN/UPC: 9780358272755
BISAC Categories: Social Themes – Adolescence & Coming of Age, People & Places – United States – African-American Social Themes – Emigration & Immigration

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