Cover Image: Setting Free the Kites

Setting Free the Kites

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Member Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam's Sons for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I'm not sure I can put into words my thoughts, or feelings, about this story and its characters. As a reader I got about half way through the story and just felt the profound sadness that permeated the characters. But there was something else within the sadness...a kind of light. I still can't decide if the light was born of delusion or of resignation, but it was light nonetheless. 

Robert Carter is quiet. He doesn't like to cause a fuss so when the bully dousing his head in toilet water gets interrupted on the first day of 8th grade Robert is a bit mortified. The interloper is Nathan Tilly, a new kid all the way from Texas. Nathan's interference in Robert's humiliation transforms into one of fast friendship between the two. Robert has lived his whole life in Haverford, Maine so Nathan is a wonderful well of stories outside of the East Coast. 

Nathan and his parents just up and moved from Texas to Maine and Robert can't figure out how they manage to live. Robert's parents own and operate the local amusement park and his brother, Liam, lives life from his wheelchair. It's a good thing Nathan and Robert have each other because they are going to need one another. 

George has crafted a story that is achingly heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once. Robert meets Nathan and Nathan teaches him to loosen up a bit. Interestingly Robert never affects Nathan in the converse way, teaching him to have caution from time to time. Unless I spoil the story I can't say too much about the actual ins and outs of Nathan's exuberance and Robert's cautious nature and how they both bear consequences for the boys. Moira, a behind the scenes character, might possibly be the one that delivers the point and lesson of the whole story. "Five minutes of love. That was all I ever wanted." George's story is ultimately about love and being grateful for what we get with those we love.
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This novel didn’t disappoint at all. This is the author’s second novel and it suffers from no sophomore slump.
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What a beautiful and touching story!! Absolutely LOVED this book to bits!! Found myself easily caught up in the history, the drama, and everything in between. Such a great read!
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I thought this would work as an adult title with YA appeal, but not for my high school kids. But I do think adults who like introspective fiction will like it.
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Excellent storytelling by Alex George. The struggles of young boys coming to grips with adolescence and young adulthood are told with precision, emotion and more than just a few pulls on heart strings.
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If you haven’t read Alex George’s first book, please do add it to your reading list- it’s beautiful! In his second novel, George weaves a gorgeous coming-of-age story, set in the late 70’s, that chronicles the life and friendship of two boys that form a friendship in their eighth grade year. This friendship blossoms as a tragic event unfolds in each family’s life brings them closer together. It’s hard to say more about this so you can be surprised by these tragic twists, but the setting and characters are so beautifully written that your heart will quickly be wrapped up in this sweet story. 
This book reminded me a lot of Ordinary Grace, in what appears to be a simple story, but is told with such beauty, heart, and soul that you can’t help but fall in love with this book . Be sure to have a box of tissues as you read this one as this book dives deep into heartbreak and loss
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Didn't finish this one, I don't think I'm the right reader for this book. Thanks for the opportunity
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Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on February 21, 2017

Robert Carter lives in Maine. His father owns a small amusement park that assures Robert (and most Haverford teens) of a summer job. His brother Liam has a disease that will kill him before he leaves his teens, although Liam is more optimistic about his fate than his parents. His mother’s mental stability is questionable.

Robert is bullied every year by a bigger student named Hollis. During his first beating of the new school year, a new student named Nathan Tilly intervenes. Nathan is smaller than Hollis, but fearless, at least when it comes to bullies. He seems to have inherited that trait from his raucous father, who suffers an unfortunate death while flying a kite soon after Robert meets Nathan.

There are several dramatic moments early in Setting Free the Kites, but the drama is understated, which makes it all the more dramatic. On the other hand, too many middle chapters are devoted to Nathan’s unrequited longing for an older girl who is way out his league, and to Robert’s plan, sparked by a romance novel, to encourage Nathan to express his love. That section of the book includes a synopsis of the melodramatic romance novel that I could have lived without.

Later in the novel, additional dramatic scenes, while continuing to avoid melodrama, seem contrived. The novel builds toward metaphors of flight, but its metaphorical moments lack the power that Alex George must have intended, perhaps because the metaphor — or the final action taken in support of the metaphor — is too obvious.

In the end, as the epilogue reveals, Setting Free the Kites is a coming-of-age novel. The epilogue is an information dump that updates Robert’s knowledge of the characters after his own defining moment, but in such an abbreviated fashion that the impact of the defining moment on Robert’s life is unclear. The lessons he learns — nobody is innocent, everyone shares blame — are good but a bit simplistic. Still, George’s prose is graceful and the characters are fully developed. Setting Free the Kites has some shortcomings, but every serious novelist seems compelled to write a coming-of-age novel, and this one is better than most.

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Coming of age story overlaid with more over the top drama than most tales can possibly hold together.  The resulting melodrama made me repeatedly wonder why so much trauma was necessary to make the plot work.  To my mind it was overkill and managed to lose much of its tenderness and age-appropriate sensibility.
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3.5 of 5.0

Nathan and Robbie become fast friends after Nathan saves Robbie from a bullying situation.  Due to being social misfits at school, they connect immediately and become inseparable.  Nathan likes to lives life out loud - run in the fast lane, push the envelope, take lots of chances.  Robbie is the complete opposite - follows the rules, flies under the radar, doesn't cause trouble.  Talk about opposites attract!  I think it is this very reason that the boys connect.

I thought this was very touching.  While there is more sadness than happiness to the tale, I do think it was uplifting as a story about friendship and how to look at the world through someone else's eyes.

This was an ARC from Penguin Group via Netgalley.
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I would like to thank Alex George, Penguin Group Putnam and Netgalley for giving me this book for my honest review.
Review By Stephanie 
4.5 Stars
I loved this book! There were so many amazing things about this book that really made it one of my favorites of 2017! 
Setting Free The Kites was beautifully written and the story didn’t leave my thoughts after I finished! This book is narrated by many young people which I thought was going to get confusing but Alex did it effortless! I was drawn to each person and their stories of loss, family and friendship. Anyone who has dealt with loss will really connect with the book. I think that is one of the major reasons why this book spoke to me so much. There was so much I could relate too and surprisingly the things I have learned from this book were amazing! I must admit there was so ugly crying going on in my house when I read this book! 
Alex’s writing was on point and I look forward to reading more!
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Robert Carter and Nathan Tilly's friendship begins in an unlikely place-  their middle school's bathroom.  Nathan saves Robert from a dreaded middle school swirlie- and their friendship naturally takes off from there! "Setting Free the Kites" by Alex George tells the story of the friendship between Robert and Nathan, who find each other during a particularly tumultuous time in their lives. Certainly a time when they needed a friend the most. P.S. I absolutely *loved* this book...
Loveably quirky settings and characters

"At the start of every summer he told himself that the sun would shine every day and nothing would go wrong. The cash registers would keep chiming all the way to Labor Day. It was a monumental triumph of optimism over experience." - Setting Free the Kites

Something I have really grown to appreciate as a reader is world building. While this aspect of storytelling is obviously important in science fiction, for me it is just as important and powerful in the adult contemporary fiction I usually read. Alex George, the author of " Setting Free the Kites", does such a great job establishing the stage for us as readers. This story takes place in the late 1970's in Maine. The main character, Robert's, father owns a quirky amusement park that is a mish mash of Arthurian England knights and second hand Wild West themed teepees and cacti. And of course,  a dynamic cast of characters fill both the amusement park and Robert's life, as well.

Two characters in particular really stood out to me in "Setting Free the Kites", grabbing at my heart strings- Robert's best friend, Nathan, and Robert's brother, Liam. Nathan, god bless him, bursts into Roberts' life and busts it wide open. He has so much character, spunk, heart, and hope. I found myself rooting for him frequently. Robert's brother, Liam, is also so heartfelt and hopeful despite his crushing situation. Liam has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disease that he has suffered from since early childhood. Liam is nearing the end of his life and the impact this has on Robert and the Tilly family is a large part of the plot in "Setting Free the Kites". His moments in the book are heartbreaking, hopeful, and for me, very tearful.

While those two characters stood out to me most, "Setting Free the Kites is chock full of so many interesting characters , all dynamic and well developed- and definitely a strong point of the book.

Warm fuzzy feeling

"Ever since Nathan had jumped out of my bedroom window I had been quietly dying of embarrassment about my tears that night, fearful that I had revealed too much. Now all that worry vanished in an instant, like a wonderful conjuring trick. I could barely see the food in front of me. All I could feel was the blood roaring through my veins, the thrilling pulse of secret elation." - Setting Free the Kites

This book gave me the warm and fuzzies all day because"Setting Free the Kites" has such an overwhelming feeling of family and connection. I was reminded of the new bright glow of middle school friendship and also the slower burn of familial love, with its unspoken understanding.

And tears! This book gave me tiny little heart attacks of emotion. Whether between Liam and his mother, Nathan and his father Nathan and Robert. All of the interactions felt so real. The author did an amazing job tying these characters to each other and really developing their relationships in such an authentic way.

One of my absolute favorite moments from the book is quotes above. Nathan and Robert's families are eating dinner together when their parents start talking about how good of friends Nathan and Robert are to each other. *oh my word, my heart!* So adorable, and heart warming, and just ahhhh! Books like this remind me why I love reading so, so, so much- and what better thing can you say about a book than that!?

Life Themes

I absolutely love books that stare hard at really tough topics - and "Setting Free the Kites" does this with so much grace and depth! Without giving away any spoilers- Nathan and Robert are both struggling with incredibly difficult situations, at home and at school. The kind of tough that requires fast and strong friendships, which they are so lucky to have found in each other. Their friendship provides a sense of stability in what is an otherwise emotionally wrenching book. So many of these moments really made me slow down as a reader and reread, so that I could appreciate the writing. So well done!

Things I Struggled With

There was so little in this book that I struggled with, but one moment in particular did stand out to me. While Robert is working at the family amusement park a girl is almost attacked by someone in a costume. Robert, knowing who was in the suit, makes the decision to hide from the girl who worked who really almost attacked her. While I understand his motivation and that it was a difficult decision for him to make, that whole section of the story just really did not sit well with me.
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Robert Carter is struggling. After a summer spent working at his father's quirky medieval-themed amusement park, he's now back at school...and back to getting bullied by the class thug, Hollis. But life for Robert is about to change. While Hollis holds him upside down over a toilet at school--Robert's head submerged in swirling poo water--both boys are surprised to see Nathan Tilly standing by the bathroom stall door. And they are even more surprised when Nathan starts beating Hollis up. The commotion of the fight gets the attention of the janitor, who promptly hauls all three boys to the principal's office. They are punished--but though Robert is embarrassed by the post-fight fallout, he and Nathan become fast friends. Setting Free the Kites is the story of their friendship as it develops during tremendously difficult circumstances.

There is a lot to love about this book. The writing is superb--simple and to the point, but still expressive and lovely. It suits the characters and the premise of the story perfectly. And I so loved Robert and Nathan. The boys are everything you expect boys this age to be:  exasperating but still endearing, smart, searching, sweet, but also reckless in that innocently clueless sort of way. It's impossible not to adore them.

Still, I'm withholding one star, and that is because there are several moments in here that feel needlessly sad. I have nothing against sad stories. I love sad stories! But by the end, I couldn't help but wonder if there really needed to be SO MUCH loss. I don't want to give anything away, but, seriously, it's just hit after hit in this book... At some point it started feeling imbalanced, like the whole thing is about GRIEF AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT. 

Yet, it is a legit beautiful story, and I'd still recommend reading it. If you do end up enjoying Setting Free the Kites, I'd also suggest Skippy Dies and The Impossible Fortress.
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A heartwrenching but hopeful coming of age story about two friends who found each other when they needed each other the most.
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“Hope is a curious thing. It emerges in the most unexpected places.”

Robert Carter is an introverted boy with few friends and loving but preoccupied parents. His life changes forever when he is befriended by a new kid at school. Nathan stands up for him when he is being assaulted by a bully, and a friendship is forged that will last for life. Thank you Net Galley and Penguin Putnam for the DRC, which I received in exchange for this honest review.

Our story is set in a small Maine town in 1976. Nathan’s parents are creative people, sculpting, writing, building one-of-a-kind kites, but tragedy strikes early in the story and Nathan’s mother retreats into herself, and is not available to her only child. Robert’s parents are fond of Nathan, who also befriends Robert’s terminally ill brother Liam, and soon Nathan has found a second home. 

Most reviewers describe Setting Free the Kites as a tragic tale, and they’re right, but what few people mention is how many really funny scenes lie in between the somber stuff. George’s writing has tremendous voice, one that brings these adolescent boys to life as few others do. I actually laughed out loud more than once, and this not only makes this a more enjoyable read, but also underscores the tragedy, taking the reader through a whole wide range of emotions.

The genre crosses between adult and young adult fiction. If I were still teaching highly capable language arts students, I’d want half a dozen copies of this book to use in a reading circle; that said, the sexual content would also force me to send home permission slips, because conservative parents would otherwise rampage into the district office with torches, hot tar and feathers. However, I consider this an outstanding enough read that I’d jump through some hoops to use it.

In some ways, however, it is more suited to literate adults. George uses a high vocabulary and uses it well. It’s certainly not a story I’d recommend to someone whose mother tongue is not English, because there’s too much cultural nuance and subtlety for that audience, and likewise, most adolescents won’t benefit from such a novel.

There are a couple off odd extraneous reveals toward the end of the story that startled me, and that did nothing to enrich the story or develop its characters. However, the rest of the book is so outstanding that it’s a five star read regardless.

This book is available to the public February 21, 2017. Highly recommended to those that love great literary fiction.
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Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read and review this book.

I kind of dove into this book, only emerging for life's normal interruptions. This is a great coming-of-age story with lots of lessons about family, friendship, loss and grief.

The book is set in coastal Maine, and the author does a wonderful job of making us feel that we are there by the ocean. Robert Carter is a teenager, not really fitting in at school where he's being horribly bullied. A new student, Nathan, comes to his rescue and they become fast friends. Robert's dad owns a small amusement park in their little tourist town, held together mainly by his perseverance and dedication. Robert's brother Liam has a life-threatening illness that encompasses their entire family. Nathan comes into his world and teaches his about letting go, fearlessness, hope and friendship.

I probably would have given this 5 starts except for the one incident with Robert's dad late in the book - just left a bit of a scar on my heart and seemed out of character and out of place in the story.

But a great read - would be a good book club read with lots to discuss.
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I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would.  Lately it seems every middle school age book I read is just so much more powerful and emotional than the adult fiction books I am reading.  This was one of those books that made me laugh, cry and feel what each character felt.  

The writing is just so good and  the characters were believable.  The book took place in the late 1970's.  Robert meets Nathan just at the start of eighth grade and the two become fast friends.  This was just an overall great story of the joys and heartaches of young friendship.  I received a complimentary e-book from the publisher in exchange for a review.
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I loved this story of two boys growing up and navigating life together.  A touching story of friendship and hardship and perseverance.
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I truly loved this book. I recommend it to everyone. If you like a good story with a lot of feelings, this is for you. It's not really a coming of age story. It's more about how a young adult might deal with tragedy and all of the other things that life might throw at you. The characters are well written. You feel emotionally involved in the story. I actually had to go in a store minutes after tears were running down my face, and I felt a little silly, but this book is definitely worth a little real life embarrassment. Read it.
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This was well written unforgettable story of 2 best friends.  Set in Maine in the 1970s, Robert and Nathan become fast friends after Nathan saves Robert from a bully.  Both boys have to deal with major loss during their friendship.  Setting Free the Kites has some great characters and the place is a character as well.
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