Brian and his family have just moved from Seattle to Riverside, Iowa (future home of Captain James T. Kirk). His father has started a new company that will manufacture plastisteel, a new super-strong plastic. On his first day, Brian joins the kids at the local skate park and quickly grabs the attention of bully Frankie and hottie Wendy, Frankie’s sister. He is rescued by nerdy Max, who also happens to be the son of his dad’s partner. Max has secretly been building an airplane out of plastisteel, which he stole and he needs Brian’s help. They recruit cool kid Alex to be the copilot and together attempt to get the airplane to fly. Everything does not go smoothly however. Frankie continues to bully Brian and Max, the company doesn’t have the financial backing it needs to continue, and they can’t get the plane off the ground.
These kids are very motivated and smart. They are dealing with a lot of stuff at home and school, but when they are working on Blackbird (the plane) they really come together. There is a lot of action in this book: attempts at flying, skateboarding tricks, fights, etc., but it doesn’t take away from the story of friendship and bullying. The bullying is a prominent theme throughout the story. Not just Frankie’s bullying but also the caving in to peer pressure that ends up being a different type of bullying. When working on Blackbird, Brian, Alex and Max are a united front and friends, but at school they are not. Max is the nerd who gets picked on and eats lunch alone. Alex is the cool kid who runs the betting pool at school. Brian is stuck somewhere in between, wanting to be part of the cool crowd, but still picked on by Frankie.
My one complaint about the book might be the kids themselves. The kids are in 6th grade and I didn’t think they acted like 6th graders at all. Max is way smarter than any 6th grader could ever be (he builds an airplane from scratch!) and he talks like no human ever would. I really didn’t find him believable at all. The only times he acted normal was when he was getting picked on. Alex runs a betting pool. Any bets taken at the school are through him. He gets a cut of them all. Really!??!? I don’t know any 6th grader who could do that. Brian is probably the only normal one of the bunch. He is worried about his parents fighting, Frankie’s bullying, his crush on Wendy and his standing at school. All completely normal 6th grade stuff.
I did like this book and I think middle grade readers will as well, especially boys.