by Lucy Christopher
a great middle grade read – you won’t be sorry you read it!
The special thing between Isla and her dad is birds. Isla feels free in the wind and the wild. She feels unsettled and shy at school – especially now that her only friend has moved away. Seeing the birds soar free is like a balm to her.
Isla and her dad rise early in the morning to watch the swans return to the nearby wetlands preserve, marking the start of winter. Her dad began this tradition with him mom when the swans landed at their farm. Too many people and houses have changed where the swans winter. But their awesome beauty and strength is a wonder to see. As far back as she can remember Isla and her dad have looked for the swans every year. This one is different though. Tragedy. As they watch, the newly constructed power lines injure the front swans. The lines haven’t been marked properly and the birds can’t see them. Some plummet to the ground, others are driven away flying in chaos and confusion. Isla and her dad try to follow them to see where the flock goes. Isla notices that one young female seems disoriented. Does she get left behind by those swans able to change direction and avoid the wires? Isla and her dad lose the birds before their questions can be answered.
The next weekend, they go out again and try to find the swans. Running across the fields to the preserve Isla’s dad has a heart attack. Instantly the swans are forgotten. Isla, frightened beyond belief, manages to call for help and get her dad to the hospital. His heart is weak and it is touch-and-go for him as he waits for an operation.
While at the hospital, Isla meets Harry. About her age, Harry has leukemia, and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant. From his window they can see a small lake and it looks like there’s a swan on it. Swans don’t fly alone and Isla thinks she might be the one that got separated from the flock the day the whoopers arrived at the preserve. She goes out to see. Amazingly the swan is not afraid of Isla. While Harry watches, the swan imitate Isla’s behavior, running as she runs, wings outstretched as Isla reaches out with her arms. The swan doesn’t seem to know how to fly back to her flock.
Here’s where it all comes together – saving a swan, saving a dad, saving a friend – each in dire circumstances. Because of an art project, Isla works with her grandfather to construct a set of swan wings large enough to wear. They intricately simulate the movement of wing and feather. Isla determines to use them to guide her swan back to her flock. She believes that if she can help the swan then her much adored father will live and Harry, her friend – perhaps even more – will finally beat cancer. So much rests on her wings – and Isla’s ability to make it all happen fast enough, before the unthinkable happens.
Fly Away is a complex, beautifully written story full of the questions and anxieties of life. The way each piece of the story is woven together creates a respectful view of life, while offering a glimmer of magic and hope. Isla’s interests, dedication, family and friends soar through the pages of this book. When you finish it you’ll feel light and full at the same time.