Coming of Age in a Time of Civil Unrest: A Review of Why We Fly

Why We Fly
Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal
Sourcebooks Fire
October 5, 2021
Ages 14+

At the end of the summer of 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia, two of Franklin High’s most talented cheerleaders are preparing to enter their senior year. Chanel “Nelly” Irons and Eleanor “Leni” Greenberg have been inseparable since the age of four. But that all changes when Leni becomes captain of the cheerleading team—an honor Nelly has worked hard for, leading the team while Leni was on the sidelines last year recovering from a severe concussion. When the squad takes a knee during the national anthem at the school’s first football game of the season, chaos and drama ensue. The squad gains national attention, receiving support from some and opposition from others, including the school administration. As Nelly and Leni both deal with the fallout of the protest, they grow further and further apart. Will they be able to mend their friendship, fight for a cause they believe in, and become the leaders they are meant to be?

Jones and Segal bring us an honest coming of age story focused on how our decisions now affect our future. With chapters that alternate between Chanel and Eleanor’s perspectives, and the use of language indicative of Generation Z, Jones and Segal open up the conversation on the work that needs to be done to end racism in an unintimidating way. They illustrate a realistic view of the Black community, describing skin color, the language used by younger generations, the importance of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and the differing opinions amongst the community in regard to kneeling. Themes of courage, friendship, civil unrest, and harsh realities are ever present as Nelly and Leni struggle to face the consequences of their actions. But through self-reflection and the guidance of others, Nelly and Leni come to a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. They realize that growing up sometimes means growing apart from the people closest to you; that standing up for yourself is always right even when adversity comes from those that love you; and that fighting for equality doesn’t always have an obvious path.