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K-12 Evaluated Resource Collection

We'll Fly Away

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Author/Publisher/Website: Bliss, B.
Copyright: 2018
Evaluation/Record Entry Date: May/2019
Submitting suppliers/Website: Not Available
Primary Identifier: 9780062494276
Recommended Grades and Subjects/Courses: 9-11
(View recommended grades and subjects) English Language Arts

Resource Description

Teenagers Luke and Toby have grown up suffering from poverty, abuse, and neglect and now, in their senior year, are pinning their hopes for escape from their lives and their town on Luke’s wrestling scholarship. Their dreams are dashed, though, when two girls arrive in their hometown and Luke and Toby make many poor choices, with Luke ultimately ending up in prison on death row and Toby following his father’s criminal path. Told through Luke’s letter from prison to Toby and by a third person narrator, this engaging novel for grades 9-12, suitable for a class, literature circle, or independent novel, deals with issues of poverty, abuse, neglect, crime, friendship, the death penalty, and justice. Social considerations noted.


Does the resource support BC curriculum?
This product supports the Core Competencies of the BC curriculum:
Creative Thinking
Critical thinking
Positive Personal and Cultural Identity
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Because of the American death penalty legal subplot, this novel works to illuminate both ELA and Social Justice curricula. In ELA, the Big Idea that "texts are socially, culturally, geographically, and historically constructed" and in Social Justice the content outcome that students should know "governmental and non-governmental organizations in issues of social justice and injustice" both apply to the themes in this novel. In ELA, the Curricular Competency that can be fulfilled through this novel is "Think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts" because of intersection between law and prose.


Gender Roles, Identity & Sexual Orientation:
Luke's mom seems desperate to find a man. She willingly allows her boyfriend to grab her behind and grope her in front of her children. She only seems to develop from a flat to round character once she is in a heterosexual relationship.
All of the single parents are stereotyped to represent unsafe parenting techniques: they are absent, fail to provide basic necessities for their children, or are criminals. The one married couple, the coach and his wife, offers to take Luke into his home so the teen can focus on wrestling. As a stereotype, marriage offers a successful way to parent children, whereas single parents are inept, abusive, and neglectful. Academic teachers are stereotyped as either uncaring or incompetent because they do nothing about Toby's obvious abuse at the hands of his father.
Belief System:
Christianity is represented as both useless and a source of hope. A Sister visits Luke in prison, trying to spark some sense of purpose in him. Other characters work hard to denounce God.
Socio Economic:
Both of the main characters' lives are steeped in poverty. As a result, some of the poor choices they make are directly linked to a lack of basic human rights: food and safe shelter. The protagonists steal food because they are hungry.
Luke experiences rage and anger almost perpetually. While he usually harnesses his feelings on the wrestling mat, in one match he toys with his opponent to help him release his anger. Toby's father beats him severely on several occasions. Luke punches Toby, gets involved in a bar fight, and shoots Jimmy. Violent prison incidents are described.
Luke is on death row. He provides no defence and offers no mitigating circumstances for why he committed his crimes because he feels he deserves the punishment. Isolation and its effects on prisoners are described. Both Luke and Toby's youth are spent trying to survive, which leads them to make some illegal choices. They steal food. Toby drinks underage. Toby gets involved in his dad's criminal enterprise. Several characters drink and drive. Toby suffers physical, mental, and emotional abuse and neglect from his dad. Luke and his young brothers experience significant neglect.
Both Christianity and paganism are the source of humour.
Neither Toby nor Luke tells anyone about the abuses Toby suffers from his dad. Toby skips school, goes to a bar, and drinks underage. Both main characters engage in teenage sex, and one does so potentially without protection. There are hints that Luke has an eating disorder. He trains to be a wrestler and make a lower weight so hard that he vomits after he works out.
Some cursing occurs, such as "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "goddamn," "hell".
Do the social considerations support, rather than detract from, student learning?
Social Considerations Comments:
No part of this novel is gratuitous. The language is used to add realism to Luke's situation on death row and to develop Luke and Toby's characters as teenage boys fighting against poverty, neglect, and abuse. The violence highlights systemic, societal causes and is useful for developing the plot. At the outset, the reader knows that Luke is on death row, so we know he commits a serious crime. How he gets to death row is plausible because of the aggressive nature of his character. One of the topics the novel looks at is the role of faith in life, which the novel deals with roundly rather than in a one-sided way.


Is the resource engaging?
Is the content current for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content accurate for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content timely and important for student broad understandings?
Is the content appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
Does the resource provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking?
Is the level of detail appropriate?
Is the language use appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
The back and forth between a first person letter from Luke to Toby and third person narrative engages the readers by building suspense. The reader knows that Luke has committed a significant crime but waits in suspense wondering which choice will lead him to death row. It's not until the last narrated chapter that the reader is rewarded with the truth. The characters are relatable: one is the kid who gets bullied and the other is an athlete who tries to protect his friend. Both are outsiders who try to make lives better for each other. The protagonists meet and try to keep girls, which makes them realistic.


Does the resource make effective use of the medium?
Is the resource easy to use?
Is the use of font, text size and presentation uniform?
Are extraneous elements/illustrations kept to a minimum?
This is a standard novel which is also available in audiobook and as an e-book. It utilizes the form of the novel well, as the story uses chapters to break up significant events in the story. The story uses alternating chapters where the font choice for the narrative is different from the letters that Luke writes to Toby which will help readers understand the shift in point of view.


Does the text show insight into the complexity of the human condition?
Does the text broaden students’ experiences and understanding?
To what degree is this text stylistically rich?
Plot description:
Two teenage boys live their senior year planning how to escape their impoverished, abuse-inflicted, neglected lives by hitching their hopes to Luke's wrestling scholarship. Enter two female characters whose arrival in the North Carolina small town create conflicts for the protagonists that ultimately lead to a series of poor choices by both Luke and Toby. Luke winds up on death row and Toby follows in his father's criminal footsteps.
Related Comments:
One of the central themes is spoken by a secondary character: "None of us are ever finished." Bliss writes in his "Author's Note" that he doesn't believe anyone is ever beyond redemption, no matter what they've done. By showing Luke and Toby's lives completely honestly through point of view shifts and the symbolism of the plane as a representation of hope, the reader builds empathy for both characters and can see that Luke doesn't deserve the death penalty. The conflicts are complex because none of the characters have a simple solution to their problems, which are societally compounded by poverty and abuse.
Literary Highlights:
Complex conflict
Rich Characterization
Well-developed themes
Point of view


At intended grade level(s)
National Book Award Longlist Title ; Booklist Editors’ Choice ; CYBILS Young Adult Fiction Finalist ; Nerdy Book Club Award for Best Young Adult Fiction ; Paste Magazine Best Book ; YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults.


In an ELA classroom, this novel could be used for literary analysis of symbolism, point of view, and character development. It would work well as a classroom novel set, literature circle, or an independent novel study. In Social Justice, the novel, or the sections that are a diary from Luke while he sits on death row, can be used for class discussion of the validity of the death penalty as a means of punishment for crime.