Ashley Shumacher’s sophomore novel Full Flight sings a bittersweet melody, taking readers to the world of high school marching band, the home of shiny brass instruments, music stands, and students struggling to find their place not only on the field, but in the world as well.
The book takes place in a small high school in Texas, where we met brand new saxophonist Anna James and her mellophone playing, leather jacket wearing, duet partner, Weston Ryan–the boy everyone has judged as too strange for this small town. It’s competition season for marching band, and Anna and Weston have been given a big duet to play together.
Despite everyone telling Anna that Weston is too strange of a person and she should find someone else to practice with, Anna’s parents included, Anna can’t help but see a different side of Weston. It’s in the smile he saves just for her and she can’t help but feel she’s helping him in some way too.
However, disapproving parents, academic expectations, town rumors, and self-doubt all threaten to destroy the song of their budding love. They quickly realize they have to fight for their love if they want to keep it.
Pretty prose, Christmas socks, and an authentic main character
Ashley Shumacher’s first novel, Amelia Unabridged, was my favorite novel of 2021. Schumacher’s writing is full of emotion and whimsy, bringing a sense of magic to her contemporary stories. My expectations for Full Flight were high, and for the most part, I was pleased.
True to form, Schumacher’s prose is as lovely as ever. Her writing evokes emotions with simple elegance. She can communicate character emotions effectively through body movements, and simple pauses. She knows how to show and not tell. Anna, our main heroine, feels vivid and relatable with her passion for wearing Christmas socks in the middle of the year, because then it’s like a little bit of Christmas is still here, the time when the world makes a little more sense.
Her relationship with her younger sister also feels realistic, as I can affirm with my own experience of being an older sister. It is a relationship that has its ups and downs, but it isn’t profoundly toxic or unrealistically perfect. It is human.
A leather jacket, a weirdo does not make
With that said, our other protagonist’s portrayal, Weston, does not seem to hold up as well as Anna. His three main qualities are that his parents are divorced, he went to the rival school for a year and came back, and he wears a leather jacket all the time, which is why he is labeled as weird by the whole town. Now to be fair, broken homes are incredibly damaging to children’s self-worth and vision of family. So, Weston predominantly struggling with this aspect of his life is fairly accurate.
I do not have qualms with Weston being consumed by his parents’ divorce. The main thing I have qualm about with his character is that he keeps labeling himself as a weirdo, when in fact, he does not seem that strange at all. He even has other friends besides Anna. For some reason, that leather jacket makes him weird in his own eyes and in the eyes of the town. I just don’t see that being such a catalyst for being labeled as a weirdo.
When the ending feels like playing a kazoo in a classical orchestra
Finally, the ending was awful. I’ve refrained from hinting at what happens in this last third of the book, but if you read the official book blurb on the back of the novel, you’ll see the “twist” coming a mile a way. And I hated it. Absolutely hated it. It felt like the start of a whole new book, almost like the first two thirds were the prologue to the real story.
It seems like Shumacher should have either condensed the first two thirds of the book into just one third, and then had the rest focus on the new plot, or change the third act to not have this plot point at all. It is such a shame, because I really did enjoy this story.
It’s still worth the read
Despite its low stakes plot and disappointing third act, I still recommend Full Flight. Ashley Shumacher is a talented writer; there is no denying that fact. Her ability to convey human emotions, especially those crazy teenage ones, is some of the best in current YA contemporary. I look forward to Shumacher’s next novel.
Full Flight was published on February 22, 2022.