Hi! I can't believe I'm already writing a review for Kristin Hannah's Fly Away. It's felt like forever since I read the book's predecessor, Firefly Lane, but it's only been a month, and I've read three books - and part of my own - in between. I thought I would have read plenty more books before sitting with Fly Away, purely because Firefly Lane left such an impression on me.
And I probably would have done that if it weren't for my mom, who fell in love with Firefly Lane after I recommended it to her. Unlike me, she was eager mere minutes after finishing the book to jump into its sequel. As such, I bought Fly Away much sooner than planned and, well, read it.
You can read my review for Firefly Lane here, but in a nutshell, this book held so deeply with me that I had nearly nothing negative to say about it. The story was heartfelt and painfully real. I wasn't sure how Fly Away would stand up to it.
With that being said, I think Kristin Hannah did a magnificent job, though as is per usual with sequels, the first is always the best.
At this point, I only know Kristin Hannah through the stories of Firefly Lane and Fly Away, so I can only comment on her writing style in Fly Away by noting the changes between it and its predecessor.
First off, Fly Away was published last year, 2013, roughly five years after Firefly Lane. I don't know if Firefly Lane was written with the knowledge that there would be a sequel, but a sequel indeed there is.
The biggest difference I noticed between the two novels is that Fly Away takes on a more complex style of narration. It skips between the present moment of the book - Tully's admission into Sacred Heart hospital after an accident still unknown to the reader - and a series of past events that have led up to it, beginning with Kate's funeral. Firefly Lane, on the other hand, was chronological for the most part.
Fly Away also delves into the on-and-off use of first-person present, especially when dealing with Tully. This was something I could see readers perhaps sharing feelings of excitement and dread over: excitement because Tully is arguably the most interesting, confident character from Firefly Lane - and who doesn't want to hear her actual thoughts in her actual voice? - and dread because, well, the same reason. It's somewhat intimidating to get into her head, of all the characters available.
The start of Fly Away was a rocky one for me. In a way, the story dragged: while Hannah before was dealing with a friendship over the span of thirty-plus years, and could skip over puddles of time without losing the story, here she was dealing with a much slimmer time frame and fell into the trap of being overly detailed at times. The character walked to the table, he poured a glass of water, he walked over to the sink and refilled the pitcher, he walked to the refrigerator and returned the pitcher to the shelf, he walked back to the table and picked up the glass of water and drank from it...do you see what I mean? For some authors, this is simply their style of writing (Stieg Larsson comes to mind) but, again, as I only have Firefly Lane to compare this to, the story did feel as though it dragged at times.
Then there's the fact that the two focal characters for the first half of the book are Tully and Marah - the latter which irked the crap out of me in Firefly Lane (I wanted to go old school and bang her with a folded belt, spoiled brat). It's funny, because my mom is now halfway through Fly Away and her pet peeve so far is how weak Johnny is after Kate's death. I, on the other hand, can't stand Marah for the life of me. She's a full-blown bitch. And I don't care whose fault it is, because the fact remains that she is the perfect example of how weak and spoiled teenagers can be. Kudos to Hannah for being able to capture one of the uglier routes of being a teenager, by the way.
Marah is the second of two big reasons, as you'll come to learn, why everyone is in the situation that they're in. Kate's death is, not surprisingly, the other big reason. While Marah does develop as a character through to the book's end, she never becomes a character I want the best for. She gets the best at the end, but I stand by the fact that I couldn't care less if she didn't.
Anyway, let's move on to the stronger points of the book.
I have two main points I want to discuss, and the first is Dorothy Hart, better known as Cloud Hart in Firefly Lane. Tully's dead-to-the-world mother.
In Fly Away, Dorothy finally puts in the work and effort to rehabilitate herself from her drug addiction, and her outcome is a success. Through it all, you learn as a reader what many perhaps hoped for after the first book: that Tully's mother does love her, and that she does have a reason why she was the way she was throughout Tully's life. Dorothy doesn't truly appear in the novel until its second half, but when she does, and she arrives at her daughter's hospital bedside, she finally tells Tully her history. Above all, we learn that Tully's father's identity isn't a mystery. In fact, Dorothy and the man, Rafe, were in love.
Dorothy's words go beyond Tully's birth, however. She goes as far back as her own childhood, and discusses what was expected of her, how she was abused, and how she was ultimately 'treated' for trying to tell her mother that she was being abused. Dorothy's story is partially generic and partially expected, but it still manages to put Tully's childhood - and Dorothy's constant return - into perspective. When she and her daughter have their moment at the book's end, and Tully finally sees a picture of her father, their family story takes on a much fuller, more powerful effect.
The second strong point of this book is Kate's continued presence. I knew Kate would be present in the novel in the form of memories, but Hannah takes the sad, painfully real ending of Firefly Lane and paints a hopeful other half. As Tully is in a coma, her spirit is in Hannah's depiction of the "after life" and "Heaven": a place that anchors the soul in happiness and comfort. For Tully, this place switches between Summer Hill, Kate's house, and their university. The point is, this place is inhabited by real places where Tully spent the most memorable parts of her friendship with Kate. And Kate is there with her.
I don't think there is much ambiguity as to whether or not Kate is a real spirit or if Tully's head trauma is dreaming all of their conversations up, but I think it's safe, for the most part, to conclude that Kate's presence is real. Kate is a real, continued presence in Fly Away and she both comforts Tully's roaming spirit and coaxes her to remember what happened to lead her to her accident, so that she can wake from the coma and continue to live her life.
I really don't want to delve into the topic of religion, because religion exists in a myriad of forms and for others it's simply controversial, but I feel like I have to bring it up momentarily. For me, a believer in religion, Kate's spirit actually being around, watching over everyone and temporarily reunited with her best friend, had a hopeful, warming effect on me. It gave the otherwise sad end of Firefly Lane a brighter, happier extended ending where the two friends could get a second chance with each other and, ultimately, finally say goodbye. For others, however, I could see this being somewhat off-putting just because it isn't 100% realistic. It dips into the realm of the unknown, and may take an otherwise fully grounded story and put it onto a plane of fantasy.
That's not to say that having beliefs will yield either result, because obviously that's not the case. Nothing is cut and dry like that. It also will not make or break the book for many because, let's face it: reading about someone that is loved and lost still being around is...well, don't so many of us hope that it really works out that way? We have to say goodbye, but we know they aren't lost for good. We know that we won't be lost for good.
I am terrified of death. When I think of it like a television screen being turned off, lives and stories lost forever, just like that...it makes me feel anxious. Fly Away paints the other, less intimidating possibility through Kate.
Anyway, enough of that. For my purpose in this review, I think it was a great decision on Hannah's part to keep Kate 'alive' in Fly Away. It brings peaceful closure to the book and makes it clear to the characters what is truly important: their continued love and support for each other. That's something that should always be held with the highest priority, really.
So, while Fly Away was written differently from its predecessor and not quite as flawless, I still think it was a beautiful, hopeful story that closed all of the questions present in Firefly Lane - at least the bigger ones. I am now even more curious about Hannah's other works, whose stories are unrelated to that of TullyandKate, so that I can better understand her as an author.
Thanks for stopping by. :) 'Til next time. ('<>')>
"That's all I need. A smile to let me know you're going to be okay. 'I'm afraid.' Fly away." - Fly Away (378)
Curious about my copy? Take a look:
Hannah, Kristin. Fly Away. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013. Kindle file.