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Learning to Fly– by Shehani Gomes What view of adolescent love could be glimpsed when brought to life thorough the point of view of a girl who describes herself as “a bit of a freak”? Definitely not your average adolescent love story. Shehani Gomes’ debut novel- Learning to Fly, having been nominated for the Gratiaen Award of 2005, takes a look into the darker, less explored aspect of adolescence and first love. The work of a very young writer, who given the chance would sit and write or doodle even in the middle of a busy board meeting, the story- and the individual stories of Kala, Dylan and Nadia smack of the uncertainty and mild apprehension mingled with excitement which prevail moments before the first take off. At times, the book is puzzling, ambiguous, contradictory, but this as we know is exactly the nature of adolescents. Looking past the frequent mood swings and emotional highs, the book is insightful, perceptive, and a very mature piece of writing for a first attempt at a relatively unfamiliar topic. The individual worlds of Kala, Dylan and Nadia are all tinged with one underlying tone of estrangement. The struggle they face as a result is not an outward one. Nevertheless it is formidable. Aside from a simple narration of the story, Shehani’s unique writing style complements the way in which characters have been brought to life. Conversations with “Mind Elves,” “Conversationalists” and fantasies on “Ifthemovieweretobe” bring out the dreams, desires and in most cases loneliness of the three estranged adolescents. The short, simply structured sentences – sometimes combining unrelated thoughts effectively convey each characters train of thought. A tale told through a series of flashbacks, diary entries and varying points of view, it is not a quick read and deserves a second reading in order that the reader is able to absorb every last aspect of Shehani’s creation. Although it deals with loss and grief, Learning to Fly is by no means a sad story. Rather it is a story about happiness; about testing ones strength and capability before the first significant take off. It is all about learning how to deal with what life throws at you and appreciating every moment of the challenge. The cover of the book- a picture of a bare table left out in the rain, is said by the author to convey the emotionally bare feeling of the book. A reading of the book though, indicates that none of the characters are by any means emotionally bare. Rather, as Shehani also describes, the book showcases a cross-section of emotional highs of three adolescents whose characters are a little borderline insane. These are not everyday characters; ones you would find in any random group of teenagers or young adults. While Shehani’s creations draw comparisons to certain adolescent characteristics which are usually associated with the period of transition into adulthood, they also explore completely unknown territory. In that sense, Learning to Fly effectively conveys the often lack of understanding of adolescents, and highlights the facts that this intriguing stage of life has far more scope for exploration- something that Shehani Gomes is not only obsessed with, but also more than capable of doing. She not only grips the reader but makes the reader think, analyze, re-read and analyze again, making her debut novel a very stimulating read- one which brings us to hope for more from her in the very near future…

Tahnee Hopman

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