What would it take to change your life and begin again with a fresh start? Courage? Tenacity? Money? That's the dilemma facing Free Meeker in April Henry's Learning to Fly. Free, a 19-year-old high school dropout, is an unlikely heroine with her shaved head, nose ring and tattoo. The daughter of aging hippies, she fantasizes about having an idealized normal family. As a child she yearned for the kind of conventional home life you see on television or in Good Housekeeping, with a traditional mother and father who would never name their two daughters Free and Moon.
Free's dreary existence in Medford, Oregon, is changed forever when she's involved in a deadly 52-car collision. The accident literally and figuratively knocks her out of her Birkenstocks. Although slightly injured, she inadvertently leaves the scene of the accident with a bag containing a great deal of money in untraceable bills, money that could finance a fresh start. Presumed dead in the collision, Free changes her appearance, assumes a new identity and moves to a different city. Unconvinced that the money was destroyed in the fiery accident, the owner wants it back and is willing to kill to get it. Free's dream of a new life comes crashing down as she is hunted by two very dangerous individuals for two very different reasons. Events conspire to bring the three of them together in an explosive climax.
Henry's characters are complex and intriguing, including a shrewd and, at times, sympathetic career criminal and a sadistic, dimwitted brute who works in a diaper factory. The author is especially adept at depicting Free's pot-smoking parents and their hippie lifestyle. With bare feet planted firmly in their bohemian past, they are alternately humorous and pathetic with their tie-dyed attitudes, erratic parenting skills and conspiracy theories. Henry, a native Oregonian, selects verdant Portland as her locale and creates fast-paced and harrowing action. In Learning to Fly, a departure from the author's popular Claire Montrose mystery series, she has produced an entertaining thriller that explores the poignant theme of what it takes to create a better life and the price you may have to pay to live your dreams. C. L. Ross reads, writes and reviews in Pismo Beach, California.