SETTING FREE THE KITES by Alex George: A Review

This 2017 novel, available in large print at the Alvin Public Library, was an “impulse pick up” displayed at the library much like the impulse buys at the grocery store. My biggest compliment to the author is that the characterization (which I read for, more than plot) was outstanding. The story was set in Haverford, Maine and begins in 1976 when the narrator , Robert Carter, was attending Longfellow Middle School.

Like most middle schools, Longfellow had its bullies, specifically Hollis Calhoun, whose main purpose in life was to make Robert’s life miserable. Enter on the scene, the “new boy,” Nathan Tilly, who although small in stature, confronts Hollis and rescues Robert.  From there, a friendship is formed that supersedes Robert’s older brother’s disability and Nathan’s loss of his father shortly after moving to town. Robert’s part in this terrible accident, leaving Faye, Nathan’s mother unhinged and unhappy, is the complexity of plot and human emotion that evolves as the novel progresses. Robert is Nathan/Gatsby’s, Nick/ the narrator, as we meet the true main character, Nathan, who is described by critics as “confident, fearless,impetetous–and fascinated by kites and flying” with a “boundless capacity for optimism.”  Yes, the novel is filled with tragedies–some small, some huge–but the indomitable ability of human nature to “cope” comes through loud and clearly.

The book deals with “truths about family, desire and revenge”. Surprises come every time the reader “turns a corner.” Many are hilarious; others are sad, and some cause warm and fuzzy feelings on the part of the reader. Kites has a satisfying ending, the dialog is spot-on, and the entire book is laugh-out-loud funny.  I read it in a day and a half. I couldn’t put it down.