In Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly, main character Apple Yengko says that everyone has three IFs (Interesting Facts). Growing up, my three IFs would have been
- I was not always so proud of my Black skin. As a Black woman, mother to a Black child, educator and community leader to Black children it pains me to say that but this was truth. I would look at my skin, excited that it wasn’t quite so dark and would secretly agree with my grandmother who would tell me to stay out of the sun. I would regard my mom’s lighter skin as a prize and would wish that my Black skin would lighten up.
- My nappy hair was a source of contention, I would slap a towel on my head and sway, hoping that my hair would grow.
- I used to wish I could be anything, anyone, other than me.
Reading Blackbird Fly, was like seeing parts of my childhood being shared on the page. The younger Rachee would have so bonded with Apple and her quest to be someone other than who she was. Apple attempts to live up to who she thought she should be instead of embracing who she was.
Nope, I was not always so excited to be Rachee, proud of being Black, excited about hair, honored to be a Fagg woman. Who wanted to be the person followed around in the store, always the bad guy on the news or in movies? The girl who couldn’t go swimming or play in the rain because “your hair would get messed up”? The kid getting made fun of because, while you weren’t even remotely fat – and the pictures from childhood proves it, the kids would tease and make fun of you because your family, heavy but awesome, would be there to pick you up from school? Who wanted to be that person? Who?
This book touches on feeling like an outcast. Apple, not quite popular but on her way, is suddenly thrown into outcast status when she’s added to the Dog Log, a list of the ugliest girls in school, as ranked by the boys at the school. Once surrounded by girls she used to call friends, Apple is shunned and must learn who and what a true friend is. Without it being too preachy, there are some instances of bullying, both being bullied and being an observer. Throughout the book Apple grows from person who is being teased and treated very unkindly and observing someone being teased and treated unkindly to someone who learns to stand up for herself and to protect those who may not feel strong enough to do it them self. And of course, Apple learns to love herself.
It was when my aunt, Charlene, who was in college when I was just a wee lass, went through a Black Power phase that I began to learn to love myself. This pride in Africa, things African, things Black, things outside my norm, was both exciting and a time to be a bit anxious (y’all know I was a nervous Nellie as a child). My aunt included my sister and me in her new found knowledge of Black Pride, taught me how to love myself and made me see that being me was being Black and that was all good.
Besides the IFs, another fun addition to this book is Apple’s obsession with The Beatles. When she left the Philippines, Apple only has a cassette of the album “Abbey Road” and listens to this to comfort her when thinking about her father, dead before the book starts, her life not as Apple and later, when she becomes a more empowered Apple. Each chapter has includes a song title from one of The Beatles albums and gives a small hint about what to expect. Apple’s playlist can be found on Erin’s website, Apple Yengko’s playlist.
This book is recommended for middle grades but would be a good read for music lovers, kids feeling like outcasts, people who want a good story, moms, daughters, dads, everyone! I feel like I am gushing but I would have loved this book as a confused kid just trying to navigate middle school and who Rachee should be.