Something’s not right on this plane

Cover artwork for Unaccompanied MinorTitle: Unaccompanied Minor

Author: Hollis Gillespie

Publisher & Release Date: Merit Press, December 2013 (ebook), January 2014 (hardback) — I’m a little confused about this.

The Hook: Teenage MacGyver on a plane vs. bad guys

The Lowdown (from goodreads): “Fourteen-year-old April Mae Manning spent her life on airplanes with her flight attendant parents. When her father dies in a crash, April’s mom marries a pilot who turns out to be an abusive jerk, and gets Mom confined to a psychiatric hospital. So April takes off, literally, living on airplanes, using her mother’s flight benefits, relying on the flight crews who know she’s been shuttling between divorcing parents for a year. Then, there’s a hijacking, but why is April’s “dad” on board? April flees to the cargo hold with another unaccompanied minor she’s met before, and they fight to thwart the hijackers, faking a fire, making weapons from things they find in luggage. At last, locked in the cockpit with a wounded police officer, the boy, and his service dog, April tries to remember everything her parents said to do in a crisis above the clouds. But she knows it won’t be enough.”

Overall Impressions:  I loved this thrill ride of a story and tore through most of it in one sitting. (There was a break to go to work.) Picture an action/adventure movie set on a plane but instead of Bruce Willis, Nicholas Cage, Samuel L Jackson or Harrison Ford saving the day, it’s a teenage female MacGyver with wide-ranging inside knowledge of how airlines work. She’s (practically) a third-generation WorldAir employee (on both sides), after all, and has practically memorized the entire run of MacGyver*. And I kid you not about the movie likeness – this book features a body thrown from a plane, a bomb in a bag, an undercover cop, surprise family revelations – and it left me with that same great feeling of adrenaline and “good guys triumph!”

(You’ve officially been spoilered.)

April Mae (she corrects people more than once on the spelling) Manning is wonderfully resourceful, self-confident, inquisitive, competent and snarky character who has taken to running away from  her scuzzy stepfather by slipping onto WorldAir flights. She’s a nightmare of custody issues – the jerk stepfather has primary custody, even though he basically ignores  her, and her mother is temporarily checked into a psychiatric facility – escapes from kidnapping, and the air is where April feels safest.

April’s intimate knowledge of WorldAir workings and the amazing numbers of employees she has met make her quick to notice when something looks hinky, and she pulls together with her band of rebels – friends Malcolm and Flo and police officer Ned Rockwell – to thwart the bad guys.

The story doesn’t allow for many shades of gray – the good guys are basically good, the bad guys pretty much bad – but the bad guys’ plot turned out to be something different than I anticipated and delightfully circular.

The story’s a blast and the characters form a wonderful family – part blood, part choice.

The Highs: April’s great voice. Much of the story is told from the perspective of a police/FBI witness interview/interrogation, and she’s just so crisp and sure of herself and steamrolls the agents.

April and her mother love each other so much, and while Elizabeth hates that she doesn’t have her daughter and feels lost fighting against the courts, she’s taught April all kinds of lessons she relies on while away from her mother. Most important, especially when things go wrong: “Don’t freak out, figure it out.”

When April, Malcolm, Flo and Ned all attempt to contact someone official about the hijacking and bomb and can’t get past automated phone trees.

I love how Ms. Gillespie took very cliche roles – precocious minor; scrappy dog; police officer with a history of questioning orders; sassy, super-tough flight attendant; older character with a string of past relationships and possible substance abuse – and mixed them up into something frothy and fun and effective.

Officer Ned’s attachment to his boots.

I am not an animal person, so I’m putting this in: I even liked the dog.

Buzzkills:  Minor character deaths – the reader doesn’t spend much time with them, but April’s memories of them made me wish we did.

Family court has completely failed April and her mother.

The Source: Bought the ebook.

*Pause to google correct spelling of MacGyver and look at pictures of Richard Dean Anderson for a moment.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a free airplane ride was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.


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