I decided to try out a book written by a local author over the weekend; my mum knows Sheena Wilkinson through work, and she had mentioned to her on occasion that I enjoyed reading and writing. Sheena had been kind enough to give my mum a copy of her novel, Taking Flight, but until now I hadn’t got around to read it.
Taking Flight definitely isn’t my normal read. As a general rule, I tend to stay away from novels set in areas I know, and I almost always choose books set in worlds that are completely fictional. I prefer to use reading as a way of escaping a part of the world I’m familiar with. But reading about places I know, streets I have actually been on myself, and coffee shops I have sat in, did have a certain novelty to it. It’s strange when scenes depict characters walking down certain roads, and I’m able to visualise exactly where they are.
Taking Flight follows the lives of two cousins living very different lives in the city of Belfast. Declan is a rough-mouthed teenager lacking any real drive and possessing a talent for rule-breaking, while his privileged cousin Vicky is a spoilt, dramatic young woman who inwardly threatens to throw a strop anytime she gets even the slightest hint that things won’t be going her way. Reading the story you learn that prior to the events in the novel the two have never really spent much time together, but have already formed a deep dislike for one another that seems to be based heavily on their social standing at times.
Declan and Vicky are forced to spend more time together when the former has to move in with his cousin and aunt after a family tragedy at the beginning of the novel. The two cousins automatically clash. Family loyalties and the automatic support of blood ties are non-existent between these two. After a period of skulking around and giving frustratingly short answers to almost everything asked of him, Declan finds himself being irresistibly drawn to Vicky’s equine lifestyle while visiting the stables she rides at, in particular her beloved show-jumping horse, Flight – something she just can’t seem to abide. And she appears absolutely hell-bent on ruining the fun for everyone, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
Of the two, I preferred Declan – both his story and him as character. I think it will be a lot easier for the reader to feel sympathy for Declan; his problems extend beyond those of most teenage boys, and so warrant more compassion. He seems to have had a tough life, although it is revealed that some of that is through his own doing. Nevertheless he’s a far more likeable character than his cousin in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, Declan is a frustrating character throughout the novel; at times you’ll want to pull your hair out at his sullen silence. I’m sure you’ve met people like him; bull-headed, with a stopper forced right in so none of his feelings can slip out. But he grows well as a character.
In comparison to Declan, Vicky’s problems just seem trivial. She’s almost insufferable at times; she’s the sort of teenage girl you see hanging round the shopping centre or on the bus ride home from school, the one whining about her ‘first world problems’. In short, she’s a typical, spoilt teenage girl. She has no real problems going on in her life. Her parents’ divorced status doesn’t seem to bother her, and she appears to want for absolutely nothing. So it is hard to feel sorry for her when she frets over the fact that Flight seems to enjoy the attention from Declan, or that her own mother shows her cousin a slice of kindness at any point in the novel. A little ‘sibling’ rivalry and jealousy is normal, but Vicky borders on the scathingly cruel at times in her attitude towards Declan. And the poor guy is going through a bit of a rough time.
Taking Flight is dramatic without being overly heavy, and deals with a range of important issues in a way that won’t drag down the reader. Through the characters Wilkinson reveals the different challenges that people can face so early on in life, some more terrible than others. She tackles the problems realistically and in a relatable way; it isn’t the case that everything just automatically works out. There’s action, humour, a little bit of romance and a whole lot of jealousy; it’s a well-balanced novel. There’s both a strong female and male character in the story, meaning it is a book that both boys and girls could enjoy, something that I didn’t anticipate. Both Declan and Vicky face challenges throughout the course of the novel, and grow with them. It’s a great novel for young adults, and even I found that once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.