Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

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Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Isla and her father love to watch the wild swans arrive, but this year things are different. Isla's father is seriously ill, and after a terrible accident, one of the youngest swans forgets how to fly. Isla puts her energies into teaching the swan, convinced that somehow this will help her father pull through.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 260 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Chicken House
ISBN: 978-1905294763

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Isla has a wonderful relationship with her father. He is the kind of man, she says, who would never tell her to come in out of the rain, because he would be out there too, enjoying the pleasure of jumping in puddles. But his heart is weak, and when he collapses and has to be rushed into hospital, Isla is bereft.

This is a story full of the emotions which a family experiences in the face of serious illness and death. Love, sorrow and anger are inextricably mingled, as past and present griefs surface. Granddad hasn't spoken to his son since he insisted on taking Nan to the hospital just before she died. To Granddad's mind, his wife should have been allowed to die out in the open, where she was happiest, and now he cannot bring himself to express any forgiveness, even though he knows his son will die if his body continues to reject the new heart valve. His family tries hard to persuade him, but Granddad's hatred of hospitals is too strong and he cannot get further than the entrance. Isla, struggling to cope with everyday life at school while her world collapses, is also secretly consumed with guilt: if she hadn't allowed her Dad to take her out that morning to look for the swans, would he have fallen ill? To add to her misery, she and her brother Jack find it impossible to understand each other's ways of coping with their fear. How can Jack play football and kiss a girl while his father is lying in bed, possibly dying? How can Isla get so wrapped up in chatting to a boy that she misses visiting time?

The other main character in this story is Harry, a young patient Isla meets. He has leukaemia, and like many sick children, the hospital has become his whole world. He is an expert on routines and medical vocabulary but longs to share the freedom he sees Isla enjoy. He watches her from his window, and as the two young people become close friends she involves him in her love for the wild swans and her worry about the young bird which has lost its way and forgotten how to fly. Up till this point, most of the magic in the story had been the everyday kind, of love and wonder at the beautiful world which surrounds us, but suddenly the story becomes something quite different. The lone swan accepts Isla as his flock, stroking her hand with his beak and racing up and down the lake beside her. Isla realises she cannot cure her father, but here is a creature who needs her help. With Harry's help, she teaches the young swan how to fly again, and helps him to rejoin the other swans. But what of her father? And what of Harry, who is about to undergo a bone marrow transplant which might cure him — if he survives the operation? The innocence of their growing love is a real delight, although all the time the reader is in two minds about their affection: should Isla, who may already be on the brink of losing the father she adores, get too fond of a boy who may well be dead in a few days, or should she offer him her friendship as the last chance for happiness?

There is sorrow and anxiety aplenty in this book, but it manages the delicate balance between deep emotion and mawkishness. It shows an immense understanding of the mixture of emotions which surround a family in crisis, and it faces the issues raised openly. Death is present all through the book, but so is life, and whatever may happen to the main characters in the final chapters, the lasting impression is one of joy and peace. A delicate, tender tale which cannot fail to touch everyone who reads it.

Further reading suggestion: Another excellent and magical story about a family trying to cope with a serious illness is Skellig by David Almond. Adults might appreciate Across the Ocean by Hawa L Crickmore.

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