Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

Received from NetGalley for review.

Flight of a Starling was something vastly different to what I was expecting. I was prepared for circus life, first love, and teenage angst, not so much for the grief, tension, and tragedy that was delivered. I should have known better – Lisa Heathfield’s previous novels have broken my heart and shaken me to the core, and this one was no different. I did feel, however, that the second half of the novel was rushed in comparison to the slow build of the first half; Lo’s feeling of anxiety, confusion, and anger suddenly explode in a dramatic way that lead towards a frantic, tense ending. There’s no denying that this is another excellent story from Heathfield, but I still feel Paper Butterflies is her finest work.

The story centres on sisters Rita and Lo – they are part of a travelling circus with their ma and da, and a small host of others who may as well be family. They live, work, and travel together and the sense of family between them is strong – they are loyal to each other and the life that they live, with some being unfairly suspicious of ‘flatties’ (non-circus people). Whilst Rita is completely happy with her life, Lo finds herself wanting to experience something more, something different – her chance meeting with a boy called Dean awaken feelings in her that she’s never had before, the feeling that maybe the circus isn’t everything and she might not want to travel and perform forever. This feeling only grows as she learns of a secret within the circus that could destroy her family and the novel focuses on her increasingly angry and unsure feelings.

The narrative is split between Rita and Lo and I loved the two different perspectives – Rita loves the circus and doesn’t understand how Lo could ever want to leave, whereas Lo finds herself overwhelmed by the strength of her emotions, both towards the circus and towards Dean. When Lo sees something she shouldn’t, the very foundations of her life crumble and she finds a steadiness, a new feeling of home, with Dean. I did find some of Lo’s feelings towards Dean silly, but I’m well aware of the power of infatuation and how important someone can seem when you’re young, and fully understood why Lo felt the way she did. Heathfield created a very strong and realistic voice for both Rita and Lo, showing the craziness of growing up and the emotions that come with it.

The dramatic turning point in the story was heart-breaking, but felt disjointed. I felt like the first half of the novel was setting up for something completely different – I won’t go into detail but I had a feeling what would happen, it just didn’t happen in the way I expected at all. It seemed a bit rushed in comparison to the rest of the story, although it dealt with loss and grief incredibly well. It may just be me, though, as I can’t fault the writing in any way; I had an extremely strong emotional reaction to this story despite the rushed feeling of the ending, which can’t be a bad thing.

Read: June 19th-22nd 2017

4/5 stars

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