Blackbird Fly Summary

Erin Entrada Kelly

Blackbird Fly

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Blackbird Fly Summary

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Blackbird Fly is the 2015 debut, multicultural children’s novel by Filipina-American author Erin Entrada Kelly. Set in present-day Louisiana, the story follows Analyn “Apple” Yengko, a twelve-year-old Asian-American girl struggling to fit in and make friends in her new environment. When Apple is teased and bullied in school for looking and acting different, she turns to music as her main release. With an old Beatles cassette tape left behind by her deceased father as inspiration, Apple is determined to buy a guitar and form her identity through music. Along the way, Apple meets new friends, learns to love herself, embrace her identity, accept her heritage, and disregard what other people think of her. Blackbird Fly has been called a “delightful debut” by Los Angeles Times Book Review and “portrayed with remarkable authenticity” by Kirkus Reviews.

Twelve-year-old Analyn Yengko was born in the Philippines. Nicknamed Apple by her deceased father, Analyn and her mother live in Chapel Spring, Louisiana. Apple’s mother claims they moved so they could start a better life, but Apple suspects staying in the Philippines would have been too hard for her mother after the sudden death of Apple’s father. Apple and her mother left almost everything behind; a postcard of a beach in the Philippines and an old Beatles cassette tape left to her by her father are the only things Apple brought to America. The year before she arrived in Chapel Spring, Apple bought a cassette player and listened to the album front to back many times over. Her favorite Beatles’ song is Blackbird, which she wants to learn to play on the guitar. When Apple asks her mother for a guitar, her mother refuses, forbidding Apple to play music in the house and emphasizing her need to focus on her studies. This saddens Apple, and she continues to listen to the tape all the time. She knows every song by heart and vows to become like her favorite Beatle, George Harrison. Desperate to purchase a guitar, Apple steals one hundred dollars from the school music room. When she remorsefully returns the money, she is caught and banned from the music room.

Apple is invited to a party thrown by her two best friends, Alyssa and Gretchen. At the party, Apple is treated cruelly by her racist American classmates. She is teased and bullied for having slanted eyes, dark skin, black hair, inexpensive clothing, and a funny name. Apple is called a “dog eater” because her classmates think Chinese people eat dogs. While Apple is actually Filipina, she is still hurt by the constant harassing and name-calling. Her self-esteem drops because she just wants to be treated like a “real American.”

A short time after the party, Apple begins seventh grade at Chapel Spring Middle School. During her first days, Apple encounters more bullying and name-calling. Shrugging it off at first, she is deeply hurt to learn that she has placed third on the Dog Log, an unwritten list of the ugliest girls in school. Devastated by this, Apple refuses to bring friends home, afraid they will make fun of her mother’s weird un-American ways, odd accent, exotic cuisine, etc. Torn between two cultures, Apple deliberately keeps her home life separate from her social life. Her sense of alienation and isolation begin to take a toll on her.

Alyssa and Gretchen tell Apple they want to help her get off the Dog Log. Their intentions seem pure at first, but it turns out Alyssa secretly wants to make Apple’s life as miserable as possible. Alyssa falsely accuses Apple of stealing Gretchen’s purse and leads Apple to think Braeden wants to dance with her. The boys in school aren’t much better, continuing to give Apple a hard time about her heritage. Finally fed up, Apple decides the best thing to do is to ditch her popular friends, buy a guitar, and run away to become a street guitarist in New Orleans. She plans to play music on the sidewalks for money, and one day becoming a rock star. Apple still doesn’t have a guitar but determines to make this her reality, as it is sure to beat her tormented life in Chapel Spring.

Soon, Apple meets a new boy at school, Evan Temple. Evan recently moved from California, and Apple is immediately struck by his carefree demeanor. Evan does not seem to mind what others think or say about him in school, which impresses Apple. He treats Apple differently than the rest of her classmates, accepting her for who she is and telling her not to change. Apple’s confidence grows as a result, and she begins a budding romance with Evan. They attend a Halloween dance together, which draws them closer together and apart from Alyssa and Gretchen.

Apple also befriends Heleena, the overweight girl listed at the top of the Dog Log, who turns out to be hiding a beautiful singing voice. Apple eventually borrows a guitar from music class, starting a band with Heleena, and discovering who she is in the process. When Apple finally tries to play Blackbird on the guitar, she surprises her classmates by playing it perfectly twice. Apple’s teacher praises her guitar playing ability, likening her to Jimi Hendrix. Through her trials and tribulations in Chapel Spring, Apple becomes more comfortable in her own skin, finds a sense of belonging, and learns to embrace her identity. Moreover, through her friendship with Evan and Heleena, she learns to disregard what other people think about her, stay true to herself, and proudly be the person she wants to be.

In addition to Blackbird Fly, Erin Entrada Kelly has written three novels, including The Land of Forgotten Girls and You Go First. Her third novel, Hello, Universe, won the 2018 Newbery Medal. Before becoming a novelist, Entrada Kelly served as a journalist for the American Press and later worked as an editor for Thrive Magazine.