Flight Summary

Sherman Alexie


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Flight Summary

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Flight is a 2007 young adult novel by Sherman Alexie. The novel is narrated by a 15-year-old Native American boy named Zits, an orphan who has lived in many abusive foster homes. After being persuaded by another troubled teen to open fire in a bank, Zits travels back in time to witness several important moments in Native American history. Notable for its use of magical realism, Flight was well-received by critics and readers.

The novel begins with Zits, the 15-year-old narrator, waking up to the sound of an alarm clock in the bedroom of his foster home. He thinks about his mother’s favorite song, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” which he believes was playing at the time of his conception. Zits, who does not reveal his real name, was born to a Native American father and an Irish American mother. His father left him soon after his birth, and his mother died of breast cancer when he was six years old. Zits blames his father for the acne that covers his face and back, since he once saw a picture of his father with a face full of acne. His mother was quite beautiful, but Zits didn’t inherit any of her features except for her green eyes.

Zits is unhappy in foster care and often runs away from home to hang out with beggars in the streets of Seattle. He has been in and out of juvenile detention for petty crimes like theft and arson. Zits dislikes his new foster parents and is rude to them over breakfast. When his foster father tries to slap him, he pushes his foster mother against the wall and runs out of the house. However, he is soon caught by Officer Dave, a local police officer who has arrested him many times in the past. Officer Dave takes Zits to juvenile jail, where he shares a holding cell with a handsome white boy named Justice.

The two boys have a deep conversation about religion, politics, and their shared sense of alienation in America. Zits grows close to Justice, and begins to view him as the father figure that has been missing from his life. After being released, Justice comes back to the jail and helps break Zits out through a window. The two boys hide in an abandoned warehouse where Justice has built a shelter out of garbage and office furniture. Justice gives Zits two guns, a paint gun and a real gun, and tells him that committing an act of violence would help him feel empowered. At Justice’s urging, Zits decides to shoot up a bank.

After a couple of weeks of target practice, Zits takes the gun and goes to a bank in downtown Seattle, where he opens fire in the lobby. He dances around the lobby as he shoots; performing a kind of Native American Ghost Dance that he believes will bring his parents back to him. A guard shoots him in the back of the head, and he loses consciousness.

When he wakes up, he finds himself in the body of a FBI agent named Hank Storm, and discovers that he has traveled back in time to the 1970s. Zitsand Storm’s partner, Art, go to meet two men named Horse and Elk on an Indian reservation in Idaho. Zits soon learns that the two men are working with the FBI and the centralized Indian government, HAMMER, against activists from an indigenous rights group called IRON. Art shoots and kills a Native American man that Horse and Elk had kidnapped, causing Zits to vomit in disgust. When Zits is forced to shoot the man’s corpse in the chest, he passes out.

Zits awakens as a young Indian boy wearing only a loincloth. Zits discovers that the boy is mute due to a throat injury. The year is 1876, and the Battle of Little Bighorn is about to take place. Zits joins the boy’s father, along with famous Native American warriors Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, in battle against General Custer’s white army. After killing most of Custer’s troops in a great massacre, the Indian warriors capture the survivors and torture them. The boy’s father gives him a bayonet and encourages him to kill one of the white soldiers as revenge for the injury that has left him mute. Zits flashes back to an incident earlier in his childhood when his foster father sexually abused him, and remembers the anger and desire for revenge that he felt at the time.

After inhabiting the bodies of several more people, including an Indian tracker named Gus and a suicide pilot named Jimmy, Zits eventually finds himself in the body of his own father, who Zits discovers was a homeless drunk. Zits’ father vomits in an alley and angers a white couple who stops to help him, causing the man to punch him in the face. When Zits’ father engages in a conversation with another man about their children, he pulls out a picture of five-year-old Zits which he keeps in his wallet. Zits realizes that his father did care about him after all, and that he probably left his mother because of his alcoholism.

Zits returns to the present day. He is standing in the lobby of the bank with the gun in his coat, and everything seems to have returned to normal. Zits no longer wants to shoot the people waiting in the lobby, and leaves the bank without taking the gun out. It is revealed that Zits’ mother died on his first day of school, and that he lived with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend for several years after his mother’s death. When Zits tried to light the boyfriend on fire, he beat Zits so badly that he went to jail. Zits meets Officer Dave in a restaurant and asks for help. Dave arranges for Zits to live with his brother Robert and his wife Mary, who are interested in adopting him. Finally feeling at home, Zits tells Mary his real name, Michael.

The core themes of the novel are identity, family, belonging, violence, and alienation. Because of his troubled childhood, Zits feels detached from the people around him, as well as his cultural heritage, and does not become truly anchored in a community until he goes to live with Officer Dave’s family. The novel also does a good job of connecting Zits’ story to Native American history and tradition, and of exploring the tensions of a post-9/11 world.