The Premise: Lo and Rita are sisters, raised in the family circus; they never stay in one town for more than a few days, so their family is all they have. They’ll marry into the circus, keep performing for their whole lives: until Lo meets a boy whose life is entirely separate from everything she knows and she begins to question what she really wants.
Thoughts: Lisa Heathfield is a superb writer of YA novels; her previous works, Seed (about teens trapped in a cult) and Paper Butterflies (a heartbreaking story of abuse) both caused me to have the kind of emotions that you want to avoid experiencing in any kind of public space. Heathfield knows exactly how to construct a beautiful, touching and deceptively simple story in order to pull on the heartstrings of her readers and Flight of a Starling is no different.
I’m fascinated by stories set in circuses or involving performers, from Angela Carter’s novels to Nights at the Circus and The Lonely Hearts Hotel, and Flight of a Starling is a worthy addition to the list. The descriptions of the day-to-day life of the circus, as well as the performances and performers, are exquisitely detailed, creating a strong image for the reader. The relationships between the characters in the circus, centring on Lo and Rita but also their bonds with their parents, grandfather and friends are compelling and absorbing; it’s a relatively short book and only took me a few hours to red, but I still felt immersed in the story.
Like Kate Ling’s excellent The Loneliness of Distant Beings, Flight of a Starling explores the idea of a life predetermined by the choices of your parents, and even their parents before them; while Ling’s characters railed against living their whole lives enclosed in a spaceship, Lo comes to question whether she wants to spend her whole life in the circus, a feeling that springs from meeting Dean. Their romance is sweet and lacking in overblown melodrama; it shows Lo seeking a more ‘normal’ life, even the like of which others might try to escape.
In Conclusion: Lisa Heathfield should feature in any discussion of top YA writers; Flight of a Starling is yet another assured, emotive and well-executed narrative that packs a punch. I feel like it’s a story that will stay with me.