Wendy's Reviews > When She Flew

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge
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Dec 29, 2009

really liked it
Read in November, 2009

The seeds of a story can come from anywhere: a conversation overheard, the sound of a train rolling by, our own life experiences or even a story heard in the news. Jennie Shortridge was inspired by the true life story of a Vietnam Veteran and his daughter who had been living in the woods for a number of years. The daughter was healthy and well-adjusted, home schooled by her father. They had lived in the wooded park for four years, living off the land. Shortridge's wonderings about their life began to spin together into what would become the novel When She Flew.

After completing When She Flew, I just had to know more about the real life father and daughter who had lived in Forest Park near Portland, if only to know they were okay. While Shortridge's story is very much her own, echoes of Frank and Ruth's story, the real life father and daughter pair, can be seen.

Ray is an Iraqi veteran, disabled and down on his luck. Unable to find work, Ray and his daughter, Lindy, take refuge in the forest of a park in Columbia, Oregon where they end up living for years. One fateful day as Lindy follows a heron, she wanders too far from home and a couple of bird watchers catch sight of her. Her quiet little world is suddenly upended.

Police Officer Jessica Villareal is one of the officers assigned to search the woods for the girl. Recent violent crimes against children have the police force on high alert. They fear for her safety and only want to ensure she is alright. Jess's interest in the girl is twofold, both as a cop and as a mother. She has always played by the rules, tried to do her best on the job and for her daughter. Approaching 40, divorced, and estranged from her daughter who has a child of her own, Jess is doubting herself, doubting the choices she has made throughout her life.

Jess and her colleagues are shocked at what they find in the forest. Ray and Lindy seem happy and strongly connected, and Jess soon realizes that separating them could be the worst thing that could happen to the pair. Her fellow officers and superior do not agree and Jess must make a choice: break up a family or risk her own career to stand up for what she believes is right?

It took me a few pages to warm up to Jess, and I think that is a testament to the author. Jess is the kind of person who does not know how to let people get close to her. On the job especially, she is the consummate professional. And yet underneath that tough exterior lies someone who is lonely and sad. Jess has had to wear a hard shell much of her life, both as a child and as a mother. In trying to protect her daughter she only alienated her more, creating a strain that Jess longed to heal but unsure how. She feels it even more now that she has a grandchild. Her relationship with her own mother is not an easy one and has not been since the death of her father, who died when Jess was a child.

I especially liked the voice of Lindy, the 13 year old girl who had been living in the forest with her father. She seemed so innocent and yet wise beyond her years. She is perceptive and smart. Her father encourages her and loves her, and it shows. It is through her eyes that the reader understands why Lindy and her father are living in the forest and just how strong the bond is between them. My heart ached at the thought of the two of them being separated.

Ray himself is a complicated character. He is a disabled war veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His life has not been an easy one and he bears a lot of guilt. He clearly loves his daughter and wants to do right by her. What he thinks is right, however, may not be what others think is right.

Having read and enjoyed Love and Biology and the Center of the Universe, I looked forward to reading When She Flew. And Jennie Shortridge proves yet again that she has a talent for creating characters that are real in every way but flesh. They are flawed and vulnerable and yet strong and capable. I longed for a happy ending for all the characters, hoping they would find peace. I cared about each of them that much. And I truly hated to see the novel end. Days after finishing the book, I still wonder what Ray and Lindy are up to.

It's not just the characters themselves though that draw me to Shortridge's novels. She tackles the many sides of relationships, putting them under a microscope. The parent/child relationship is one we can all relate to in some way, each of us having parents, some of us having children. Jess's struggles with her own mother mirror those she has with her daughter in some respects. The anger and blame. The self-doubts. The events in the novel prove to be a turning point in their relationships, just as it is for Ray and Lindy. My only complaint is that I wish more time could have been spent on Jess and her daughter, especially near the end. The resolution to their story seemed to come too easily. Even so, that's minor compared to my enjoyment of the book overall.

On a more social scale, When She Flew brings into light the issue of the U.S. war veterans and homelessness as well as those with disabilities and mental health issues, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what of homelessness of parents with children? Shortridge puts human faces to terms and labels we all hear so frequently in the media and our everyday lives.

When She Flew deals with heavy topics but Shortridge's writing is like sitting down with a friend for an afternoon meal. The story flows across the pages and I lost track of time as I read. The novel is both thought provoking and entertaining. I really cannot say which I like better. Love and Biology and the Center of the Universe or When She Flew. Both books are so different from one another.

Now to remember to set the book near my purse Monday morning so I'll remember to take it with me. I think this is one my boss will really like as well.
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