Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, Scholastic, 2011. ISBN: 9780545342148. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.
Isla has inherited her father’s fascination with the wild swans they call whoopers that migrate from Iceland to their part of England every year. It was something he and his dad shared, before Isla’s grandmother died of a heart condition in the local hospital. Her grandfather, a retired veterinarian, hasn’t been the same since. He’s aimless and somewhat bitter, to the point where Isla and her older brother, Jack, try to avoid him as much as possible.
When she and her dad are out looking for returning swans, they witness a terrible sight. As a flock starts descending to land on a nearby pond, the birds can’t see the new high tension wires and several are killed right before their eyes. When they spot the surviving members of the flock trying another landing while they’re driving home, Isla and her dad stop the car and rush across the field to get a better look. Halfway across, Dad suffers a heart attack. Isla manages to get help and rides to the hospital in the ambulance.
What follows is a long, painful wait as the family stays at the hospital, waiting for news. When Isla can’t stand sitting any longer, she wanders off to a reception area by the hospital cafe. She’s looking around vacantly when she spots a boy about her age with a portable IV. Not wanting to stare, although he’s cute, she finds a bench and sits down to rest her eyes. When she feels someone sit down beside her, she opens her eyes and there’s the same boy. Harry noticed her distress and came over to see if she was okay. They start talking and Isla learns he’s being treated for leukemia. What impresses her is how easy he is to talk to and how he doesn’t find her fascination with birds at all odd.
As you follow their developing relationship against the drama of Isla’s father’s heart operation, her brother’s own budding romance, her grandfather’s terribly slow return to being human and the two tweens shared fascination with the lone whooper who seems stuck on the pond outside Harry’s window, you’re treated to a wonderful story. It’s one with suspense and a little bit of magic. It’s also a terrific narrative about those first tentative and deliciously scary feelings when you start to realize someone really likes you for the first time. For Isla and Harry, those moments are even more vivid because of his illness and what her father is going through. This book has a really nice ending.
It’s a terrific addition to libraries for younger teens who are just getting into romance, those with major family health issues and those who love animals, especially birds.