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Setting Free the Kites
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Setting Free the Kites
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From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.  ...
From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.  ...
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Description-

  • From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.
     
    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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

    Copyright © 2017 Alex George

    PROLOGUE

     

    Haverford, Maine, 2015 

    Nathan Tilly gave me the story I’m going to tell, but it was the old paper mill that set my memories free.

    I read the report in the Haverford Gazette the previous week.  The mill has not been operational for more than fifty years, but now the land has been sold to a supermarket chain, and the old building is to be razed to make way for a customer parking lot.  The news has prompted vigorous local debate.  Some are angry that the city council has allowed part of our municipal heritage to be sold off.  Others are excited at the prospect of fresh bagels.  Such is progress. 

    For myself, I’m sorry to see the old place go.  I want to pay my last respects, watch the thing go down. 

     

    The lower end of Bridge Street is lined with mud-encrusted pick-ups and vans.  I have to double back and park on the other side of the river.  It is a beautiful, fresh spring morning.  The faintest of breezes is coming in off the ocean.  As I walk across the bridge I can hear someone shouting instructions through a bullhorn.

    Warning signs have been posted along the road, keeping the curious at bay.  Authorized Personnel OnlyHard Hat Required.  I keep my distance.  A huge crane is parked in front of the old building, its arm stretched high into the sky.  A wrecking ball hangs at the end of the crane’s thick steel rope, fat and heavy with the threat of violence.  The mill’s giant wooden doors have been padlocked shut my entire life, but now they are opened wide, and early morning sunlight falls into the cathedral-like space where vast pulping machines once rumbled from dawn to dusk, the town’s beating heart.  Workmen in reflector vests walk in and out, murmuring into walkie-talkies.  I guess they are checking all three floors for uninvited visitors before the walls start crashing down.

    The mill’s red brick chimney rises tall and straight into the sky.  By lunchtime it will be gone.

    At precisely nine o’clock there is a long, shrill blast from a whistle.  A man climbs into the cabin of the crane and turns on the ignition.  As the engine rumbles to life, the arm of the crane begins to move from side to side, and the wrecking ball starts to swing. 

    The old mill has been on the brink of demolition for years.  Up and down this part of the southern Maine coast, from Biddeford to Brunswick, abandoned industrial buildings have been rescued and revivified, artfully repurposed for twenty-first century living.  Those ancient spaces have been reborn as art galleries, office suites with double-height ceilings, and organic delicatessens selling squid ink pasta from Umbria and artisanal cheeses from Vermont.  Everyone has been waiting for a similar metamorphosis to happen in Haverford.  It hasn’t been for want of trying: in 2004 a consortium of property speculators from away went crazy for the mill’s exposed brickwork.  An architect was commissioned to design a warren of luxury condominiums with reclaimed timber floors and glinting chrome appliances.  But the town lacked the necessary real estate mojo to pull it off.  No matter how pretty the artist’s impressions in the brochure looked, nobody was buying.  Not a single unit was sold, and the promised renovation never happened.  The place has remained abandoned and deserted ever...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 2, 2017
    George’s (A Good American) coming-of-age story set in Maine opens the summer of 1976, with Robert Carter anxious over the bullying that will surely resume with his return to middle school. This year, however, Nathan Tilly, a fearless new kid, steps in to protect Robert, and an important friendship begins. Tragedy and hardship visit both boys, and they rely on their bond as they face an otherwise lonely adolescence together. The settings in this touching story are frequently tinged with the magical quality of exploration—a seaside home north of Haverford “that edged into the dark waves of the Atlantic,” a windy beach cove “cut off at both ends by jagged promontories of rock” perfect for playing among the “columns of sun-bleached stones stacked one on top of another,” which Nathan’s mother crafted. The real treasure is the Arthurian-legend-themed amusement park Robert’s parents own and operate, where “teenage knights,” speaking in English accents, “clanked about in ill-fitting plastic armor and damsels swept up and down the pathways with bodices garlanded with ribbons.” While the dialogue is occasionally perfunctory or moralizing, George is masterly in his rendition of Maine landscapes and the emotional swings of adolescence. Throughout their mischievous hijinks the boys are always thoughtful and kind and their intentions are noble (even naïve), though serious danger is never far behind. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2016
    Two boys in 1970s Maine help each other weather tragedy.Robert Carter's friendship with the new kid in town, Nathan Tilly, gets off to a strong start in the middle school boys' room, where Nathan rescues him from a bully who has been beating the crap out of him year after year. Things head south the next day though, when Nathan's ebullient, kite-flying dad, who has promised to take them out for ice cream, falls off the roof of their house to his death, also crushing a mongoose named Philippe Petit (after the World Trade Center tightrope walker). This precipitous turn of events makes you wonder what to expect from the author--bold narrative moves or gratuitous tragedy? The answer is both. The highlight of the book is Fun-A-Lot, an amusement park owned by the Carter family. "The court of Camelot had been re-created on the coast of Southern Maine--Olde England in New England, as the legend above the gates put it. Teenage knights clanked about in ill-fitting plastic armor and damsels swept up and down the pathways in bodices garlanded with ribbons." (Shades of George Saunders' "My Chivalric Fiasco," though without the drugs.) As much as Robert's father hates his amusement park, it's dwarfed by the main source of misery in his life: Robert's older brother, Liam, who is gradually being debilitated by Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Liam's inexorable death, accompanied by a blistering soundtrack of the punk music he loves, devastates his family. But it does not slake the author's thirst for mayhem, as the final chapters of the book zip us back to World War II for mass murder of innocent civilians, kill off another main character, and throw in a little frustrated pedophilia. George (A Good American, 2012, etc.) can't separate his good ideas from his bad ones, but there's still a lot to enjoy here.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from May 1, 2017

    It's 1976, and on the first day of eighth grade, Hollis Calhoun is flushing Robert Carter's head down the school's toilet. Enter new boy Nathan Tilly, and the scene changes as a friendship forms. Robert and Nathan bring out the best in each other just long enough to cope with the deaths of Nathan's father and Robert's brother. Despite the tragedies, readers won't feel weighed down. Like the kites Nathan sets free, the prose soars as the author tackles first loves, best friends, and clever acts of revenge. George employs a style similar to that of Jean Shepherd (author of A Christmas Story), conjuring up a run-down amusement park, a man with a toe for a thumb, a dead mongoose, a chain-smoking dragon, and more. Also included are an oddly placed World War II flashback story and an unnecessarily long epilogue, but neither will detract from readers' enjoyment. The humor and poignancy of the boys' parallel experiences will give teens something to consider and discuss. VERDICT A wonderful tale that's full of boyhood charm and meaty enough to engage fans of literary historical fiction.-Pamela Schembri, Horace Greeley High School, Chappaqua, NY

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    December 15, 2016
    Eighth grade is hard enough, but for Robert Carter it's made doubly worse by the constant threat of bullying. So when newcomer Nathan Tilly arrives in depressed Haverford, Maine, and saves him from a particularly wrenching confrontation with the local terror, Hollis Calhoun, Robert is forever indebted to his fearless classmate. The two become fast friends through school and over summer jobs working at the schlocky amusement park owned by Robert's dad. Tragedy further unites them as first Nathan and then Robert copes with devastating losses. Nathan is reckless and wild spirited in all the ways that Robert is not, including his pursuit of his high-school crush, Faye. George (A Good American, 2012) draws on Gatsbyesque themes, as Nathan pines after goals forever out of reach: the Daisy Buchananlike Faye and a life that is truly carefree, unencumbered by circumstances beyond his control. The mechanics of grief play out gracefully, even if the novel occasionally gets bogged down by relentless tragedy. An eloquent meditation on loss and the necessary action of letting go.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2016

    After triumphing with A Good American, a Barnes & Noble pick that sold 50,000 copies, George takes us to 1976 Haverford, ME, where put-upon eighth grader Robert Carter befriends Nathan Tilly, the daring new kid in town.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    February 15, 2017

    Set in the 1970s in a small coastal town in Maine, this generous, poignant novel addresses family, friendship, and dealing with catastrophic loss. The story centers on the Carter family and their two sons, Liam and Robert. Older son Liam is dying of muscular dystrophy, and this devastating circumstance is the gravitational center of the novel. Each family member must find a way to come to terms with this tragedy, and each struggles in a different way. The story is narrated by Robert, through whose eyes as a young man just coming of age, we bear witness to a terrible ordeal that tests everything this family believes about the world and themselves. George (A Good American) handles the psychological and emotional complexity of this situation with great compassion and skill. The bond that develops between Robert and Nathan Tilly, a new student in town, is superbly drawn and speaks with great eloquence about the power of friendship to heal and strengthen. It is what saves Robert. VERDICT A beautifully wrought work for fans of literary fiction and coming-of-age novels. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/16.]--Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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