Setting Free the Kites
by Alex George
For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly, who changes everything. Nathan is confident, fearless, impetuous—and fascinated by kites and flying. Robert and Nathan’s budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies, and as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss, they take summer jobs at the local rundown amusement park. It’s there that Nathan’s boundless capacity for optimism threatens to overwhelm them both, and where they learn some harsh truths about family, desire, and revenge. Unforgettable and heart-breaking, Setting Free the Kites is a poignant and moving exploration of the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship.
Loveably quirky settings and characters
"At the start of every summer he told himself that the sun would shine every day and nothing would go wrong. The cash registers would keep chiming all the way to Labor Day. It was a monumental triumph of optimism over experience." - Setting Free the Kites
Something I have really grown to appreciate as a reader is world building. While this aspect of storytelling is obviously important in science fiction, for me it is just as important and powerful in the adult contemporary fiction I usually read. Alex George, the author of " Setting Free the Kites", does such a great job establishing the stage for us as readers. This story takes place in the late 1970's in Maine. The main character, Robert's, father owns a quirky amusement park that is a mish mash of Arthurian England knights and second hand Wild West themed teepees and cacti. And of course, a dynamic cast of characters fill both the amusement park and Robert's life, as well.
Two characters in particular really stood out to me in "Setting Free the Kites", grabbing at my heart strings- Robert's best friend, Nathan, and Robert's brother, Liam. Nathan, god bless him, bursts into Roberts' life and busts it wide open. He has so much character, spunk, heart, and hope. I found myself rooting for him frequently. Robert's brother, Liam, is also so heartfelt and hopeful despite his crushing situation. Liam has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disease that he has suffered from since early childhood. Liam is nearing the end of his life and the impact this has on Robert and the Tilly family is a large part of the plot in "Setting Free the Kites". His moments in the book are heartbreaking, hopeful, and for me, very tearful.
While those two characters stood out to me most, "Setting Free the Kites is chock full of so many interesting characters , all dynamic and well developed- and definitely a strong point of the book.
Warm fuzzy feeling
"Ever since Nathan had jumped out of my bedroom window I had been quietly dying of embarrassment about my tears that night, fearful that I had revealed too much. Now all that worry vanished in an instant, like a wonderful conjuring trick. I could barely see the food in front of me. All I could feel was the blood roaring through my veins, the thrilling pulse of secret elation." - Setting Free the Kites
This book gave me the warm and fuzzies all day because"Setting Free the Kites" has such an overwhelming feeling of family and connection. I was reminded of the new bright glow of middle school friendship and also the slower burn of familial love, with its unspoken understanding.
And tears! This book gave me tiny little heart attacks of emotion. Whether between Liam and his mother, Nathan and his father Nathan and Robert. All of the interactions felt so real. The author did an amazing job tying these characters to each other and really developing their relationships in such an authentic way.
One of my absolute favorite moments from the book is quotes above. Nathan and Robert's families are eating dinner together when their parents start talking about how good of friends Nathan and Robert are to each other. *oh my word, my heart!* So adorable, and heart warming, and just ahhhh! Books like this remind me why I love reading so, so, so much- and what better thing can you say about a book than that!?
I absolutely love books that stare hard at really tough topics - and "Setting Free the Kites" does this with so much grace and depth! Without giving away any spoilers- Nathan and Robert are both struggling with incredibly difficult situations, at home and at school. The kind of tough that requires fast and strong friendships, which they are so lucky to have found in each other. Their friendship provides a sense of stability in what is an otherwise emotionally wrenching book. So many of these moments really made me slow down as a reader and reread, so that I could appreciate the writing. So well done!
Things I Struggled With
There was so little in this book that I struggled with, but one moment in particular did stand out to me. While Robert is working at the family amusement park a girl is almost attacked by someone in a costume. Robert, knowing who was in the suit, makes the decision to hide from the girl who worked who really almost attacked her. While I understand his motivation and that it was a difficult decision for him to make, that whole section of the story just really did not sit well with me.
I just can't stop gushing about this book! I would love, love, love to see it adapted for film. After finishing "Setting Free the Kites", I immediately added the author's last novel "A Good American" to my hold list at the library. I can't wait to read more from this author! Have you read "Setting Free the Kites"? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Let me know below! Thinking about picking this book up? Click here to find a copy at your local library or click below to view the book on Amazon!