The hottest boy in your grade likes you. You have an exciting job at a skydiving center, a best friend who can drive, and a father who adores you. What more could a girl possibly want? For Clancy Edwards, the sixteen-year-old protagonist of Tracy Barrett’s new young-adult novel, Freefall Summer, the answer is so much more.
First, yes, Clancy’s boyfriend, Theo, is the hottest boy in their grade. When he transferred to Clancy’s school the year before, he brought a Southern accent and good manners with him. But he often confuses being a gentleman with being overprotective, and Clancy is fed up with his paternalism.
Clancy’s father, Dave, on the other hand, has an actual reason to be overprotective. Although his business, Skydive Knoxton, is the ultimate thrill-seeker’s destination, keeping his daughter safe is his obsession. Clancy was still in preschool when her daredevil mother, Jenna, died in a skydiving accident. After her death, Dave is left to eke out a living, working long hours at the DZ (skydive lingo for “drop zone”) and raising Clancy alone.
Clancy’s job at the drop zone would be a thrill for some people. For her, though, it’s just hours of packing parachutes in a dusty airplane hangar. To add to the disappointment, working at the DZ means watching elated jumpers returning from doing the one thing her father has forbidden her to do: skydive.
But this story takes place in the summer, so there are compensations. There will be parties. There will be swimming. Clancy can hang out with Theo and her best friend, Julia, after everyone gets off work. Plus, packing so many parachutes will help Clancy build a college fund—a secret fund she has no intention of telling her father about until she absolutely must. But her summer plans are foiled when Theo gets a longshot camp—counselor job he applied for months earlier. So he’ll be out of town all summer, leaving Clancy bored and alone.
Clancy tries to focus on work, but when a handsome skydiving student rolls into town, she finds it hard to focus on anything but him. Not only is Denny charming, he actually listens when Clancy talks about her plans to pursue archeology. Denny assumes Clancy is already in college, and she doesn’t correct him. Over windy afternoons at the DZ, Clancy and Denny talk about almost everything—his summer job, her interest in art. Everything except her out-of-town boyfriend. When Theo returns unexpectedly from his camp job, Clancy has some decisions to make.
In many ways, Freefall Summer is a classic bildungsroman: the protagonist experiences conflict in connection with the shift to adulthood, makes a decision, and then manages the consequences of the decision. But this book is unique in two ways. First, it gives a fascinating look into the culture of skydiving. And, second, teen readers get to watch Clancy grow from a state of emotional isolation to one of real connection through healthy relationships. Freefall Summer models healthy emotional growth, a process which baffles many teens.
It’s possible to go through life ignorant of skydiving culture, of course. If you have ever asked yourself the question, “Why would someone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” you are what’s called a whuffo-a term derived from an abbreviation of that phrase. According to The Whuffo’s Guide to Skydiving, a book Clancy has been writing since childhood, skydiving has recorded fewer casualties every decade since the 1970s, even though the number of people participating in the sport has increased during the same time.
Readers may be surprised that the scariest realization in this book has nothing to do with skydiving, as Clancy faces her own imminent independence: “From now on I’d be in charge of my own life-the good parts and the bad parts,” she thinks, “and if things didn’t work out the way I planned, I’d pull my own reserve and land on my own two feet.” Clancy Edwards is a character who will inspire both teen and adult readers to take the leap into their own wild blue yonders, reminding them to own their actions-and pack their own parachutes.
[To read an excerpt from Freefall Summer, click here.]
Sarah Carter is a high-school English teacher living and working in Lebanon, Tennessee. She is currently an M.F.A. candidate at the Sewanee School of Letters.