Rating - 4: worth reading multiple times (buy it)
This is a ripping good yarn, a phrase I have not used un-ironically in my entire life. It is fun, something you can zip through without being a bit of fluff.
The subtitle gives you most of the summary: "Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken." Emmaline is a fledgling teenage aeronautic engineer at the end of the Victorian age. Rubberbones is her pilot, since he seems to be immune to damage. Their attempts to fly are cut short by her being sent to boarding school at, well, see the title. We also have gypsies, a mad inventor, a feral princess, someone who cooks with earwigs, violent sports, and "the birds."
The story includes a lot of fun. Where logic, physics, or biology get in the way, they are merrily and even explicitly thrown overboard. We are playing here.
The story flows wonderfully. Do not read this over a meal, because you will find yourself with cold food and 40 pages gone before you think to pause. Or maybe you are the sort who would unwittingly eat an entire bag of chips while reading; the point is that the tale is immersive, bringing you in and letting you ride along with it. We are on a ride here.
The characters are flat and static. Conveniently, that is not a problem in the slightest for the story. It is not the kind of story where we grow and become better people. This is kids and friendly grownups versus mean kids and oppressive grownups. And it is done well.
It does right the things for which I criticized The Mysterious Benedict Society. Character differences remain relevant, and each character is demonstrably him/herself when s/he is "onstage." Even Stanley (think Little Brother from Mulan) gets to act out his simple nature. There is not too much to each character, but they play the heck out of it.
The story is pretty straightforward: problem, resources, complications, overcome. Instead of saving the princess from the tower, though, we are helping the princess get what she needs to save herself. Positive, easy to follow, and since the main story is simple, it cannot get lost when we start throwing in fireworks and other decorative flourishes.
Yes, this gets a 4 while serious literature will frequently get a 3 or a 2. In your life, are you going to watch Citizen Kane more or fewer times than Spiderman? This book does not ask much from you but gives a good amount back. Low time investment for a good time; that merits a repeat performance, which is our definition of a 4.
If I were that sort, I might go so far as to use phrases like "timeless classic" and "something you will be proud to give to your grandchildren." Like most good writing targeted at a young audience, it can be enjoyed by young and old.
It's just a good, fun story. It succeeds at being entertaining where others fail at trying to be important. What more can I ask of a book than to do well everything it tries to do?