When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge

Ever since the untimely death of her police officer father, Jessica Villareal has known that she too would be a police officer when she grew up.  Dedicated to her job and especially to protecting children from predators, Jess hasn’t always been as attentive to her daughter Nina as she has needed to be since she was essentially always on the job.

Nina becomes pregnant as a teenager and leaves Jess to live with her alcoholic father, Jess is left to ponder the decisions and choices that she has made with regard to her daughter, and in her present struggles to be apart of her life and the life of her three-year-old- grandson Teo.

When Lindy and her father Ray, a troubled Iraq war veteran, are found to be living in the woods, Jess makes sure to be assigned to the team to bring them into police custody.  Acting on a feeling that even she doesn’t understand, she only knows that she will do anything to protect and lookout for Lindy, even if the cost is her career and the vestiges of family that she has left.

This is one of those books that you pick up and don’t put down until you finish. Simply written and emotionally astute, When She Flew got me involved with these characters and wanting to see what was coming next.  Jess is wonderfully human, and though she strives to be good person you don’t always agree with her thinking and the choices where her thoughts ultimately lead her.  I thought she made a more than one bonehead move, and you can see that her over investment  in her job has caused problems with her family.

Fully fleshed out with all of the little things that can run through a woman’s mind through the day, Jess’s thoughts often went from job issues, to her weight, dating, and her options and failures as a parent.  It was easy to admire her confidence on the job but to also cringe as she bungled interactions with both her daughter and her mother.

Ray and Lindy were a touching mother and father duo.  Shortridge paints a perfect picture of what drives this man to make the choices that he does in living off the grid with his daughter, and details their day-to-day activities so that you can see just how they were able to live and manage going to church every Sunday.  Lindy can be very naive but at the same time she is well educated and adult beyond her years. None of the characters were portrayed in black and white and it was very hard to make any decisions about what anyone should have done. I think Lindy was very wise to note at one point that she had done something and the consequences were both good and bad.

I started and finished this book in one day.  I love the way that Shortridge rendered the morally complex issues of parental vs government responsibility in a child’s life and what constitutes a good parent and a suitable home, while also delicately touching upon issues of child abuse and the mental and physical health of soldiers returning and what they face returning home from war. I also enjoyed observing the way that the different characters used or rejected faith and personal symbols for guidance in their lives and decision making.  There aren’t any easy solutions for the characters portrayed in this thoughtful novel and I am still thinking about the issues explored here. Recommended.

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