Came Back to Show You I Could Fly – Robin Klein

I’m not sure how you’re supposed to review a book you’ve loved since your early teens, especially when you haven’t read it for about 20 years. With such high expectations and nostalgia taking hold I was worried that Came Back To Show You I Could Fly wouldn’t stand the test of time. How happily wrong I was!

It was everything I remembered and more. Angie and Seymour, both lonely outcasts, took up residence in my heart way back in the early 1990’s when it was assigned reading for my English class. I can’t begin to imagine how many times I reread this book as a teenager, taking hope from what is quite a sad book on the surface.

Seymour is staying for several weeks over the school holidays with Thelma, a lady who clearly has no experience caring for children, but has been basically conned into protecting Seymour from his father by his drama queen mother. Seymour is a lonely, neglected, bullied 11 year old who is so well mannered and adorable that I just want to hug and then adopt him. I was only a year or two older than Seymour at the time I first experienced this book and while I saw him as a peer at the time, I now look on him as someone I desperately want to mother.

By chance Seymour winds up at Angie’s home and over the course of the novel they form a sibling/friend bond and go on adventures all over the city. Angie brings colour and excitement to Seymour’s stone grey life. Seriously, Seymour’s Mum, a stone grey pencil case is not a cool birthday present!

Angie is effervescent and possibly stole someone else’s personality because she seems to have more than one person’s quota. With the ability to talk under water and regale Seymour with humourous anecdotes from her childhood, complete with impersonations, she’s a live wire. As a young teen fresh from a several year The Baby-sitters Club obsession, Angie’s dress sense reminded me of what I loved about Claudia Kishi, in particular the quirky earrings.

Beneath Angie’s bravado she’s hiding a secret from Seymour. Angie is addicted to drugs. I was really naïve in this area as a kid, coming from a family where no one even drinks alcohol, so this book was my introduction into this previously unknown world. It really opened my eyes at the time and in retrospect I can trace my love of social issues YA books to this one. I can also see the signs through the book of what’s really happening in Angie’s world that I missed as a kid.

What I really appreciated in my reread as an adult is how honestly Angie’s addiction is portrayed, vomit and all. Besides the suspicions Seymour has that Angie’s flu isn’t actually the flu, there is a sensitive yet heartbreaking insight into how drug addiction also affects parents, siblings and friends. While this is clearly shown with Angie’s Mum and sister, I am surprised that I never noticed before that Angie’s Dad and brother are barely even mentioned.

One of the things I love about books is how they influence who you become when you let them into your soul. The awe I felt as a kid at Angie’s clothes and earrings had a huge impact on me and I have an array of weird and wonderful earrings in my collection now. Angie’s lifelong habit of naming her outfits turned into me naming my cars. My first car I actually named Angie after this character. My car, like Angie, was initially rough around the edges but with some love and time I knew it would be loyal and good because beneath the exterior it was a fighter. That car served me well for a number of years.

Nostalgia aside, Robin Klein’s book definitely stands the test of time. Her characters are damaged but loveable, and even when they’re making truly dodgy decisions you want them to prevail in life. Once again I was emotionally invested in the story and no, they’re not tears. I’ve just got something in my eyes. 😭 This remains one of my all time favourites and I could happily go straight back to page 1 and read it all over again right now.

What I Hated: I almost feel like apologising to you about the cover image of this edition. While there’s nothing wrong with this image itself (although not my taste) and it would work well for another book, it does not belong on the cover of this one. Please, in this instance do not judge a book by its cover. The Angie on this cover is bland, boring, forgettable; an imposter. Angie is anything but.

The cover of my copy (the same one our English class at school read from) is the 1991 Puffin Books edition, and this features the real Angie and the real Seymour. The cover illustration is by Vivienne Goodman and you can tell she understood these characters.

Angie is up front, with her dyed hair tousled, shoulder tattoo, painted black fingernails, a jumble of bangles and the earrings I think she purchased with Seymour in her ears along with the first few of an array of earrings working their way up underneath her hair. She’s got this look on her face that’s one part “don’t mess with me”, one part sad, and with a hint of the potential of something sarcastic and inappropriate for the situation about to make its way out of her mouth. She looks like a troubled Meg Ryan, circa When Harry Met Sally….

In the background, there’s Seymour in his jeans, grandpa shirt and daggy sandals, with this smile on his face like he can’t believe he’s in the presence of this angelic being. Right behind Seymour is an old, worn fence, obviously from the non-posh side of the alley. These are the people you’ll be meeting in this book. I hope you’ll love them like I do.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to renew my love for this classic Australian novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s the summer holidays and eleven-year-old loner, Seymour, lodged with a fussy guardian in an inner-city suburb, is bored and unhappy in his confined world.

By chance he meets Angie – beautiful, charismatic Angie. He is bewitched, and his world is opened as she takes him on unexpected holiday outings and shopping sprees.

Angie, however, is not what she seems.

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