Flyaway by Lucy Christopher
Chicken House, 2010. ISBN 9781905294763.
(Age 10+) Highly recommended. One day when Isla and her father are birdwatching they see a flock of swans and try and trace their path. Her father suffers a heart attack and collapses and Isla manages to get him to hospital. There she meets Harry, a boy who has leukaemia and together they watch a lone wild swan, separated from her flock, on the lake near the hospital. The swan seems almost magical and Isla is convinced that saving her will help her father and Harry get well.
Christopher has beautifully portrayed her cast of characters, and I felt as if I knew them all personally. Her descriptions of family life, especially the sibling rivalry between Isla and her brother Jack and the broken relations with her grandfather, who can't get over the death of his wife, made them come alive. Especially poignant was the loving father and daughter relationhip. Harry's patient acceptance of his illness and his relationship with Isla, who is just starting to become interested in boys, is handled well.
The theme of flight and the idea of a swan song, where the birds take the soul of a dying person into the sky, dominates the story. Isla is determined to rescue the swan that has become detached from its flock, and is sure that its rescue will mean her father and Harry will become well. Her school project for art, called Flight, also carries through the theme of dying swans, as she uses the wings of a stuffed swan to recreate some of Leonardo da Vinci's ideas for a flying machine. Some of the most memorable scenes in the book are when Isla runs with the lost swan, flapping the wings on her machine and hoping that it will take flight.
Christopher's writing is superb, the chapters are short, and the prose is full of imagery and vivid descriptions. I won't easily forget this heart-wrenching story of friendship, love between a father and daughter and the glory of swans.