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Fly Boy by E. Walters

Walters, Eric. Fly Boy. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2011. Print.

What boy hasn't dreamed of piloting a high-performance military aircraft over enemy territory?  For young Robbie McWilliams, still only seventeen, that day can't come soon enough, so he takes matters into his own hands and enlists in the Royal Canadian Air Force with the documents of his deceased older brother. This is the premise of Eric Walters' YA novel Fly Boy, set in the middle of the Second World War.

Walters has crafted a cleanly-written and realistic novel that gradually takes Robbie from the familiar school-like environment of training camp in Brandon, Manitoba to the air war over occupied Europe. Along the way, Robbie makes new friends; encounters elements of the adult world, such as drinking, gambling and inter-service rivalries; and comes to realize that war is not fun or glamorous, but indiscriminate and brutal. "Nothing would make me happier than to have it end today," he writes to his friend Chip. A foreword to the book by Flight Lieutenant Philip Gray voices the same message and vouches for the veracity of Walters' account: "most frightening of all, we were becoming really good at our jobs," he writes.

The pace of the book is one of its pleasures. It takes almost half of the book before Robbie arrives "in theatre," and so the reader experiences the same anticipation mixed with impatience. Each aspect of the training regimen is given ample space to impose its strangeness on the young recruit, and these sequences are intercut with Robbie's letters home: to his mother to keep up the deception that he is at boarding school, and to his friend Chip, wherein he expresses his true thoughts.

Robbie had entered the air force hoping to become a pilot like his father, a prisoner of war when the book begins, but his skills as a navigator see him fast-tracked at the expense of his dream. Good navigators are rare, and his country needs him to be one. Only eight of the twenty-six chapters are "action" chapters in the air, but this keeps them fresh, since an endless stream of missions would be too realistically monotonous. Instead, time is devoted to developing Robbie's relationships with his crew mates. The book also includes many small historical details, such as the contents of an escape kit or the meaning of specialized air force terms.

Though the conclusion of the novel may be somewhat less than satisfying to some, it does, however, set up the possibility of a sequel quite nicely. Boys will enjoy reading this book, especially those interested in military history.

Recommended: Three stars out of four
Reviewer: John Huck

John Huck is a metadata and cataloguing librarian at the University of Alberta. He holds an undergraduate degree in English literature and maintains a special interest in the spoken word. He is also a classical musician and has sung semi-professionally for many years.