Title: Girls Don't Fly
Author: Kristen Chandler
Concepts: caring labor, job search, economics of education
Review: Seventeen-year-old Myra Morgan’s life seems to be slowly collapsing around her. It’s not enough that she cares for her four younger brothers while juggling being a high school senior – her pregnant sister returns home from college to make Myra’s daily existence miserable and then Myra’s perfect boyfriend Erik suddenly breaks off their nearly two-year long relationship. But an unexpected announcement at school offers Myra the chance to escape – a graduate student named Peter Tree tells their biology class that two students will have the chance to study abroad at the Galapagos Islands. The only catch is that the students will have to put up $1,000 for the program while the rest will be covered by a scholarship. It’s a dream opportunity for Myra but will she be able to raise the money? And, will she be able to stand life in her dead-end town in the meantime?
As a young adult novel, Girls Don’t Fly skims right over the basic economic lessons for younger kids and gets into the nitty-gritty details. It’s not just that Myra and her parents hold jobs, but the reader sees the three of them juggling household chores amongst themselves to fit their disparate work schedules. For instance, Myra notes, “Mom cleans offices. She leaves before dinner each day and then I take over with dinner and kids. She hates working nights, but this way Danny doesn’t have to go to day care and all the stuff that goes with six kids gets paid for. I’ll say this for my mom, she knows how to work.” Myra’s series of part-time jobs further illustrate the double bind of trying to afford advanced education by working but having to find a job that will fit into an already tight school schedule. Myra’s work experiences also show the less glamorous sides of the working world including job interviewing, upset customers, incompetent co-workers, and sexual harassment.
With a biology study abroad program at its core, Girls Don’t Fly is also a very science-oriented book. Myra decides to study birds as part of her scholarship application, and author Kristen Chandler uses the ornithological theme throughout the book. Each chapter of the book begins with a bird-related term that is then given one of Myra’s snarky definitions (i.e., one term is “habitat,” which Myra describes as “the place where you’re stuck”). These terms and their definitions apply loosely to the corresponding chapter.
Throughout her ups and downs, Myra remains an immensely likable character who teen readers will no doubt identify with in at least some aspects. She’s a heartbroken teenager with a lot of responsibilities just trying to find her place in the world and develop the wings she needs to get there. Perhaps the greatest lessons Myra learn aren’t economic or even scientific – they are about believing in herself and the possibility of her dreams coming true.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children