Cover image for Learning to fly
Learning to fly
Henry, April.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur, 2002.
Physical Description:
308 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Nineteen-year-old Free Meeker has a shaved head, a nose ring, and a tattoo of Chinese characters around her biceps. She has a career, if you can call it that, as a pet groomer. And she has just learned that she is pregnant, and that her boyfriend is a two-timing bastard. Then a disastrous highway pile-up erroneously adds her name to its list of victims - and hands Free a chance for a new life. In the chaos of the fiery accident, she acquired the identity papers of the hitchhiker who is mistaken for her - plus a gym bag filled with $740,000 in drug money that otherwise would have been burned up. Go, Free, go! Free sets out to transform herself into Lydia, the sweet-faced girl whose identity she has assumed. Raised by aging hippies, Free has always secretly longed to be more "normal," to try shaving her underarms instead of her head. Now she has a chance to make herself over. But Free doesn't know that two men are hot on her trail. One man wants the money back. If he doesn't get it soon, he knows he will end up dead. The other man wants his wife back. He doesn't know the real Lydia died in the accident, on the run from his pathological abuse. Now he is determined to "teach her a lesson" - even if the lesson is fatal. As Free/Lydia settles into a new life full of possibilities, she is completely unaware that it is threatened by resourceful pursuers who are closing in on her.

Author Notes

April Henry lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young daughter. Her previous jobs include German translator, cook, housekeeper, hospital admitting clerk, life drawing model, and a brief stint as the girl who jumps out of a cake. April's first book, Circles of Confusion , was short-listed for the Agatha Award and the Anthony Award, wa selected for the Booksense 76, and was nominated for the Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award. It was the first (and to date, only) mystery chosen for the Oregonian Book Club, a state-wide reading group.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Henry's Claire Montrose series has suffered from unevenness, but here, in a stand-alone mystery, she really hits her stride. Set in Henry's hometown of Portland, Oregon, this dynamic, hard-to-put-down suspense tale features 19-year-old Free Meeker, whose shaved head and pierced nose belie her secret wish to be «normal.» Fed up with her druggie, hippie parents and the two-timing boyfriend whose child she is carrying, Free hits the road. Shortly after, a gruesome, multicar accident kills Lydia, a hitchhiker riding with Free and several others. Among the dead is Jamie, a young man who begged Free to find his gym bag, which turns out to contain $740,000 in cash. With Jamie and Lydia dead, Free takes the money, assumes Lydia's identity, and, with endearingly naive optimism, begins a new life. While Free is enjoying pregnancy and carefree living with her new roommate, two bad guys draw near. One seeks Jamie's undelivered drug money, and the other is hunting his wife, Lydia, so he can kill her for running away. As they close in on the unsuspecting Free, the suspense becomes deliciously unbearable. With Learning to Fly, Henry soars straight into the big leagues. Jenny McLarin.

Publisher's Weekly Review

After three books (the Agatha- and Anthony-nominee Circles of Confusion, etc.) featuring an amateur sleuth whose day job involves making sure people don't create any nasty messages with their vanity license plates, Henry has produced a stand-alone thriller that is far darker and uglier than any novel in her Claire Montrose series. A gruesome freeway pileup (52 vehicles, 14 deaths) has unexpected benefits for a young woman whose hippie parents named her Free: a new identity plus a bag containing $750,000 in drug money. When a passenger in her car, killed in the carnage, is mistakenly identified as Free, suddenly our pregnant, unemployed heroine has a way out of her problems and the money to finance it. She becomes Lydia, and assembles a new life in what she believes is the safe obscurity of another woman's persona. But then two dangerous men start to track her: a vicious drug dealer, who wants his money back, and Lydia's sicko husband, who wants his punching-bag wife back. In tone, mood and structure, this is a major departure from the Claire Montrose adventures, and fans may not forgive the author for depriving them of their favorite guessing game (try deciphering 6ULDV8, or CUNQRT). The harrowing accident scene (based loosely on a real event) that opens the story is very strong, but its promise goes largely unfulfilled by a fair-to-middling middle and then a predictable ending. All told this is but a passable thriller that lacks the originality readers of Henry's earlier books have come to expect. 2BAD. NYSTRY, but NTKWT. (May 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Pregnant and single, Free Meeker picks up a female hitchhiker on her way to Oregon. A massive pile-up on the interstate wrecks her car and kills her passenger, who is mistakenly identified as Free. Unwittingly retrieving a bag of money from a drug courier's car, Free seizes the opportunity to begin life anew and assumes the identity of the dead hitchhiker. Unfortunately, the hitchhiker's angry, abusive husband and a very determined drug dealer come looking for her. Henry's fourth novel (after Heartshaped Box, her third Claire Montrose mystery) features a most interesting plot, told with easy grace, choice characterization, and mounting tension. For most collections of mystery and suspense; libraries on the West Coast may also want to highlight this intriguing Portland-based writer. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.