REVIEW: FLY AWAY BY KRISTIN HANNAH

FLY AWAY

Author: Kristin Hannah 
Pan Macmillan RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Fly AwayEarlier this year I reviewed Firefly Lane, the story of two women’s enduring friendship and since then I’ve been looking forward to reading its follow-up, Fly Away. The first novel ended on a sad note – by then I’d become invested in its characters, so I was keen to find out what happened next. My overall thought? Fly Away borders on near-depressing for three-quarters of the book (so be prepared), but manages to impart a much-needed feeling of hope and redemption in the last quarter. And that’s when the tissues, if you are a book-crier, come out. Reviews have been mixed, as they were with Firefly Lane, but for the most part, I found it a very good read that tackled some worthwhile topics.

In Firefly Lane, Tully was depicted as a larger-than-life, gorgeous, attention-seeking woman with big dreams masking a painful past. In Fly Away, she is struggling to fulfil her death-bed promise to Kate – to look out for Kate’s children following Kate’s death from breast cancer. Of course, she wants to do the right thing by Kate, and in her own well-meaning way, she does try, but really, what does Tully know about being a mother or taking care of people? So, she makes mistakes and misjudgments and ends up alienating herself from Johnny, Kate’s husband; and due to an impulsive decision at work, she’s no longer hot property on TV. Far from it. Lost in grief and self-pity, Tully’s life is on a downhill slide. A fast one. And when she is betrayed by Kate’s daughter Marah, who once worshipped her, Tully wonders if she’ll be able to crawl from the cavernous pit that is her lonely, dark life.

Marah reacts to Kate’s death by becoming withdrawn – no one can reach her. She shuts her father out, resisting his attempts to hold the family together. The moment she discovers cutting is a revelation for her: for some reason she can’t quite fathom, when she was most depressed, hurting herself is the only thing that helps. When Marah takes it too far, Tully steps in and offers to let Marah stay with her while she gets help, promising Johnny that she’ll keep an eye on Marah. What Tully didn’t count on was Marah meeting a young man who seems to really get her … a man Marah follows into his dangerous, shadowy world. Johnny is beside himself – he trusted Tully and now his daughter is a stranger making bad life choices.

A terrible accident leaves Tully comatose, drawing Johnny and Marah to her side, both besieged by guilt. It also draws Dorothy Hart, once known as Cloud, to Tully’s bedside. Dorothy is a child of the ’60s and has been dependent on drugs for most of her adult life; she has been working hard to turn her life around and now wants to prove that she can help her daughter. What this means, however, is revealing the ugly secrets of her past. And even if she does, and Tully awakes, is forgiveness possible?

Hannah tackles a number of contemporary and important issues in Firefly Lane: alcoholism, drug use, grief, self-harm, and family and domestic violence. Particularly through Tully’s backstory and Dorothy’s story coming to the fore, she shows how cycles of abuse require great strength and a lot of support to be broken; in Dorothy’s case, I was glad to see her ‘redeemed’ in that her past behaviour towards Tully had deep roots in fear, shame, self-doubt and grief. Here was a woman who had been broken, repeatedly, and who was simply unable to believe in herself as a woman or a mother. I felt that Hannah’s portrayal of Dorothy was authentic; the story, heartbreaking.

While friendship was the essence of Firefly Lane, at its heart, Fly Away is a story of redemption, forgiveness and hope; a story of healing old wounds and new, of finding new ways and casting off old ones. Tully, Marah and Dorothy wandered down a path of self-destruction that will be all too familiar for many readers – maybe they’ve wandered that path too. Or, maybe, like me, they’ve known people close to them who have wandered that path. It’s a helpless feeling for those watching and/or caught up in its wake. That same sense of helplessness and yes, even frustration, may be evoked for some readers; others may lean towards empathy or sympathy. For me, I felt a mixture of feelings – top notes of frustration and sadness leading to deeper notes of compassion and hope. And while some other reviewers felt otherwise, I found that I was left with the bittersweet taste of hope at the end. And that was enough for me.

The structure of the story as it flits back and forth in time, mixing memories and present-day events, may be confusing for some readers. I did experience that a little at first. There is a fair amount of repetition/backstory in the book, which some reviewers have criticised. If you read the story as a standalone (which you can do), I think it’s needed, especially to show the depth of Tully and Kate’s bond and how Tully fits with Kate’s family. For those who have read the first book, though, I do agree that sometimes there’s a bit much revisiting old ground. I would have liked more focus on the now. Oh, and there was one character I think is greatly underrated in this book (and the first) – Kate’s mother, Margie. I really liked her and wish I knew more about her – a good mother, a good role model for Tully, and later, a non-judgmental friend for the troubled Cloud. Some of the things she said showed the greatest wisdom.

Overall, a good read for me. I liked it and I’m happy to read more of Hannah’s books. Fly Away is available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.

Here’s an audio book sample for those interested.

Bookish treat: Don’t ask me why but I’m thinking donuts. Maybe because they have a hole in their heart and so do the women in this novel … OK, I’m BS-ing. I just want a donut.

Watch the video below if you want to enter the world of Kristin Hannah’s Fly Away.