Authentic Canadian Cover for Purists
Cover for the American Release
Flyboy is about Ryan, a Toronto college student whose secret power is that he can turn into a fly. He meets Cassandra: she's a waitress, a single mom, and the former singer for a famous-in-certain-circles punk band. She can make things disappear.
It doesn't take much reflection to figure out that Ryan's superpower kind of sucks. Flies are annoying, but powerless; they can be fairly easily swatted, or trapped, purposely or accidentally. This is underscored from the first scene in the book, when one of Ryan's roommates smashes a fly on Ryan's bedroom wall, leaving behind a bloody smear that never gets cleaned up. To further complicate things, Ryan returns to human form buck-ass naked, and, if he's been a fly for very long at all, covered from head to foot in a layer of viscous green slime.
On the other hand, it takes Ryan and Cassandra awhile to figure out just how awesomely powerful she is. They join together as Superheroes for Social Justice, and lend their powers to the social and political action they're already part of, a community of young activists who deface offensive billboards and attend hastily-organized political meetings in the damp basement where they also attend terrible poetry readings when they're not busy organizing this year's Take Back the Night March.
As someone who was part of a community just like this back in the 90s, when the book takes place, I found Ryan and Cassandra's community very familiar and comfortable, and would hand it to my kids to read with the introduction, "Just imagine that everyone in this book is a lesbian, and, except for the superpowers thing, this is exactly what my life was like in my 20s."
Cassandra and Ryan don't want to hurt anyone; their goal is something more like civil disobedience, and shaping creative punishments to fit the crimes of the powerful. For instance, angry that the police did not respond to the organizers' request that officers assigned to the TBTN march be female and unarmed, they march the route, Cassandra disappearing each officer's gun as they come into sight. They then introduce themselves in their thrift-store superhero costumes and make a statement to the press
The news coverage, when it comes, focuses on Cassandra's looks, and they punish the newspaper's sexism by driving around late at night, disappearing newspaper boxes. Ryan drives, and after awhile Cassandra slips into inattention, looking up quickly and doing her thing when Ryan tells her they've reached the next box.
This inattention is how she accidentally disappears a mailbox.
R & C are so conscientious that the disappearance of the mailbox bothers them on its own merits: "What if there were personal letters in there?" one of them says. But from there, the "what-ifs" pile up. What if instead of a mailbox, there had been a person there? Cassandra already knows she can disappear people; her power manifested when she accidentally disappeared an uncle who was trying to molest her when she was six. She and Ryan start speculating about the limits of her power. "Could you disappear the sun?" Ryan wonders. Cass doesn't want to think about it.
The superhero storyline is fun, and thoughtfully played out: Ryan's relatively weak power makes him, inevitably, the sidekick, and it's a lovely thing when a straight white guy ends up the sidekick to a bisexual woman. As a fly, he can observe (he helpfully retains his brain and ability to read), but his power to act is very limited, and there is a tense scene in the book when he is witnessing something terrible and can neither escape from having to see it, nor stop it. Cassandra's power, on the other hand, is almost infinite. She is ultimately faced with knowing she can stop a terrible thing, but only by doing a terrible thing. Can she do it? Can she live with herself if she does?
I don't love this book for the superhero stuff, though. I love it for the way that Ryan and his male friends are trying to navigate their relationships and their place in the community they've chosen. They are white guys trying to be decent white guys, and their efforts are touching. They want to be supportive of each other but aren't sure where the lines are; they want to be decent to the women in their lives, but aren't sure they know how. Ryan's friend Jack gives him The Female Eunuch to read at one point, and I admit that touched my crusty old battle-hardened feminist heart.
I love a moment, too, when Ryan, just getting to know Cass, is so overwhelmed by her vocabulary and intelligence that he has to curl up in a ball for a minute. A few pages back, he was admiring her looks, but it's her brain that renders him speechless. Ryan and Cass meet with one of her exes, who is territorial and hostile with Ryan. Later, Ryan wonders out loud what it means that he didn't feel threatened by her behavior, whereas he thinks he would have if she'd been a man.
Cass says, "It means you don't see a woman as a realistic competitor for a sexual partner. It means you're a little bit sexist, and a little bit homophobic."
Ryan thinks, "Ah. Good to know." (paraphrased from memory here)
I have three sons, and I would give them this book to read because they would be into the humor of it, and the superhero stuff. But I would really like them to see, too, the way Jim Monroe portrays male friendship, female friendship, community, and romantic relationships.
I did roll my eyes at Cass's Perfect Fiction Baby. As is so often the case in books and movies, Cass is a single mom who rarely suffers the real challenges of single motherhood. She says, "Just let me put the kid to bed and I'll be right back," and emerges from the bedroom a peaceful five minutes later. When adult conversations need to happen, the child entertains herself endlessly with toy cars; when an adult conversation has to happen in a restaurant, the child interrupts only once, and then only briefly, despite having nothing to entertain herself with but a napkin and a pair of chopsticks. Cass's apartment comes equipped with a Child-Loving Older Woman Who Lives Alone In The Apartment Downstairs, and who is so delighted to watch Cass's child that neither Cass's job, nor her social life, nor her political activism, have to suffer; Cass can set her own schedule and be relied upon to keep it, while the grandmotherly neighbor picks up the extensive slack.
I get that these kind of fictional children are an expediency that allows writers to include children in characters' lives while telling stories that are not primarily about parenthood and children. Along with everyone's bathroom habits, most of the meals they eat, the haircuts they never mention getting unless it's central to the plot, and the bills they must be sitting down to pay at least sometimes, most childrearing challenges take place off-stage so as not to bog the story down. I'm still in a stage of parenting, though, where I'm very aware of the enormous disconnect between these fictional children and the real thing, and so I can be forgiven an eye-roll or two.
You can buy copies of the book at Jim Munroe's website, No Media Kings, and I recommend you do. Munroe offers a pay-what-you-can ebook option as well. dan also recommended Munroe's book Angry Young Spaceman, if I recall correctly, and I look forward to reading that next.