cover image Setting Free the Kites

Setting Free the Kites

Alex George. Putnam, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-399-16210-7

George’s (A Good American) coming-of-age story set in Maine opens the summer of 1976, with Robert Carter anxious over the bullying that will surely resume with his return to middle school. This year, however, Nathan Tilly, a fearless new kid, steps in to protect Robert, and an important friendship begins. Tragedy and hardship visit both boys, and they rely on their bond as they face an otherwise lonely adolescence together. The settings in this touching story are frequently tinged with the magical quality of exploration—a seaside home north of Haverford “that edged into the dark waves of the Atlantic,” a windy beach cove “cut off at both ends by jagged promontories of rock” perfect for playing among the “columns of sun-bleached stones stacked one on top of another,” which Nathan’s mother crafted. The real treasure is the Arthurian-legend-themed amusement park Robert’s parents own and operate, where “teenage knights,” speaking in English accents, “clanked about in ill-fitting plastic armor and damsels swept up and down the pathways with bodices garlanded with ribbons.” While the dialogue is occasionally perfunctory or moralizing, George is masterly in his rendition of Maine landscapes and the emotional swings of adolescence. Throughout their mischievous hijinks the boys are always thoughtful and kind and their intentions are noble (even naïve), though serious danger is never far behind. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (Feb.)