Review: Flight of a Starling
Flight of a Starling - Lisa Heathfield
Rita and Lo, sisters and best friends, have spent their lives on the wing – flying through the air in their trapeze act, never staying in one place for long. Behind the greasepaint and the glitter, they know that the true magic is the family they travel with.
I think Lisa Heathfield might be an auto read author for me, just so you know, because I cannot get enough of her writing. I’ve talked about Seed and Paper Butterflies already, but in summary: ouch, beautiful beautiful ouch, and so I was ridiculously excited when the news reached my little bookworm ears that Lisa had written a new book – Flight of a Starling – and that it will be published at the end of this month (you'll pre order it now if you know what's good for you). I read it over the weekend, and by read I mean, in a way not dissimilar to Paper Butterflies in January, devoured and then had to stop and take deep breaths and not dissolve because oh wow my heart.
It was almost funny actually; I read PB on holiday, got a massive sad and made a bit of a dick of myself due to that sad, so then this weekend I read Flight of a Starling and got a massive sad and well, probably you can guess the rest and what is it with me and my inability to not control my feelings over fictional characters. I probably ought to do something about that. Be less invested or something. Oh I know, stop laughing: not happening.
The thing is, I knew this book would do this to me. This book was going to break me, I knew it was. I knew it because that’s what Lisa Heathfield does. She takes your emotions and she puts them through the wringer, she unravels you in ways you weren’t entirely prepared for and she intersperses it all with gorgeous prose and little pieces of magic so that it seems to not hurt quite so much, and then gently, lovingly, when that lump in your throat, that tightness in your chest feels like it’s just about to spill over into too much, she pieces you back together again so that you finish the book feeling emotionally overwhelmed, trembly and tearful and yet somehow kind of warm, still kind of glad. It’s a skill, let me tell you, because this story is really fucking sad and yet the book isn’t a sad book.
It’s a beautiful book and it’s a hopeful book and it’s a book that’s about family and friendship and falling in love and finding your place; it’s a book about believing in yourself; it’s a book about every days kinds of magic, about finding that magic in the most unexpected of places.
It’s also gorgeous. I highlighted so many parts that if I was to quote them all now then I’d basically just be recreating the whole book which, holy copyright issues batman. I’ll let you have a couple of quotes though because I can’t not. I need to share the pretty. #seducemewithprettywords
‘Lo has secrets hidden in this boy.’
‘Sometimes, I think their dreams for him are too heavy on his shoulders. Sometimes, I imagine lifting them off bit by bit and letting the real Spider roam free.’
‘Not like the pitch near Haworth,’ Da says. ‘Do you remember those sunsets across the moors, Liz?’ THIS IS MY CORNER OF THE WORLD AND I LOVE WHEN MY PLACES ARE IN BOOKS. A couple of weeks ago we went out for food and drove home over those moors and I took a photo of that sunset and, hang on, let me see if I can find it….
Pretty right? Also check out the sheep in the road. You just don't get that in the city.
Anyway, where were we...
‘Between us, her costume sits on the ground, the snagged material needing to be tucked under and sewn. I’m unpicking a feather stuck in the way of the thread…’ The detail though, you know? The detail. And the whole book is like this, the writing is so visual. I love it.
‘I could reach up right now and touch the sky with my fingertips. Pull myself through the blue away from all of this.’
And there’s one near the end that I’m not going to share because it’s a spoiler but that has just made me tear up again just reading it.
Basically, this book was right up my street, I knew right away that whilst Seed and Paper Butterflies had touched me this would be The One. I mean, it’s about a travelling circus you guys, and the main characters are trapeze artists. Yes, I know. I know.
The characters are vivid and deep and I fell in love with all of them, to the point that when their carefully constructed worlds began to fall apart I felt it deep in my chest. The way the characters are drawn, the way they're developed, the way they're shown to us, it gets under your skin so you really feel it. For example, Lo and Dean, There was a sense of urgency to Lo’s relationship with Dean, it happened fast, sure (and we all know I usually have issues with that) but it felt different here somehow, like these two people met and right away there was an expiry date on what they had because the thing with a travelling circus is that it travels and Dean, Dean has roots and so things kind of had to happen on fast forward a little bit and the whole star crossed lovers thing, Heathfield nailed it.
Then there was Lo’s relationship with her best friend Spider, who everyone in the circus expected her to end up romantically involved with (never going to happen) which was complicated and also simple, and God, Spider – I wanted more, Spider, actually, because I loved him. I could have read a whole other book just about that boy.
There was Lo’s sister, Rita (the book is a split narrative, told from both Lo and Rita’s perspective) and their relationship which was stunningly portrayed, these sisters who live together and work together and have this symbiotic relationship that you see tested to its limits, and Rita’s relationship with Ash, her circus boyfriend combined with her feelings for someone else – and I loved that, the exploration of the weight of expectation versus the call of your heart.
There’s Grands who hurt my heart because he reminded me of my own Grandpa who I still miss so much, and this whole supporting cast and every single one of them leapt off the page. The circus life was so vivid and the whole story really was just…enchanting.
It’s the way Lo sees the world I think, it makes you want to see it that way too. It left cracks in my heart this book, with it’s gorgeous melancholy tone.
It’s different to Lisa’s other two books - they made me angry, the stories in those books made me rage. Starling didn’t make me angry. It made me sad and it hit home, because, well, because the things that happen in the pages of this book they happen, they happen to people we know and love - I know girls like Lo - and it’s sad and a little terrifying the impact one tiny little decision can have on your whole life. It should be required reading this book, for teenagers, somebody needs to get it on the goddamn curriculum because I’m telling you now: I think it could make a difference.
I loved this book, I loved it and you should absolutely read it . As for me? I’ll be sat here waiting for Lisa Heathfield’s next book and I leaving my footprints everywhere I go.