Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden

by Philippa Dowding

This lively, fast-paced novel by Philippa Dowding (author of the Lost Gargoyle series) moves fluidly from the whimsical to the fantastical and takes an intriguing detour to some dark places in between.

Thirteen-year-old Gwendolyn Golden wakes up one morning to find herself bobbing against her bedroom ceiling like a balloon. Though a touch to the bedpost brings her plummeting to the ground, the phenomenon keeps occurring at inconvenient times, like when she’s at school.

It’s the local candy-store owner, Mrs. Forest, who reveals the truth: Gwen is a Night Flyer, a rare group of humans with the power of flight. Mrs. Forest, a Flyer herself, is to be Gwen’s mentor. She gives Gwen a handbook (the cover proclaims it to be a Micro-Edition for the Less-Than-Willing Reader), which explains that the ability to fly is triggered by the onset of puberty. Indeed, the handbook’s style hilariously imitates public health pamphlets – a Q&A section provides answers to pressing questions such as: What is happening to me? How do I control my flying? What ceremonies and parties do I attend?

Gwen’s ability comes with new responsibilities, but it also has a dark side, as powers often do. The euphoria of flying means that, like Icarus, there’s a risk she’ll fly too close to the sun, and Gwen discovers a nefarious force that has the potential to overwhelm her. The ability to fly is usually passed on from parents. Since Gwen’s mother isn’t a Flyer, she starts to suspect her newfound gift may be connected to the sudden disappearance of her father seven years earlier.

Dowding knits together a variety of elements – puberty, hidden talent, independence, loss – with a satisfying balance between humour and seriousness. This is an accessible story that readily lends itself to both metaphorical and literal interpretations. The open ending suggests we might be hearing more from the Night Flyers, and that will be welcome news for many readers.