Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Lisa Heathfield has quickly become one of my auto-read authors. I’m sure that no matter what she writes, I’ll read it. She’s really nailed this odd balance between intriguing and creepy – a vibe I don’t get from any other author. From her previous books, Seed and Paper Butterflies, I should have been expecting something with a darker edge. But, Flight of a Starling called out to me as a new take on The Little Mermaid. It’s not a retelling, but there are definitely strong and unavoidable links between the two. When we did get to the plot twist, I wasn’t shocked so far as confused. So, let’s discuss.
Flight of the Starling is split into two perspectives, Rita and Lo, the circus act sisters. It’s fair to say that Lo is given a lot more prominence in the story, and it wasn’t until the end that I even noticed what Rita was doing! So, the girls work in a circus and when they stop in one town, Lo falls in love with a boy called Dean. They can’t be together because he’s a ‘flattie’ (circus speak for regular person) and her dad would never allow her to have a relationship outside of the circus. Now you get my Little Mermaid references. (“But, Daddy, I love him!”) They meet up secretly and share their dreams, with Lo encouraging Dean to become an artist rather than what his parents want. It’s sweet, but predictable. The conversations probably wrote themselves.
An important side plot is that Lo witnesses her mother having an affair with Rob, a younger guy that works for them, but doesn’t have ‘circus blood’. She’s tied up of whether to tell her father or not, but I never got the sense that it was completely tearing her up inside. And that’s where the plot twist comes in… (Spoilers from now on, friends.)
Lo ends up overdosing on paracetamol. It doesn’t take immediate affect, but she does it because of Rob and her mother, and potentially not getting to be with Dean. I really hated the handling of it all, because it felt…unprecedented. Suicide attempts have intent, but even as she’s taking the pills, she’s reconsidering. She shows no signs of a depressed mental state before then. She’s not the only one that knows about the affair, so she’s not shouldering the burden alone. The very act of overdosing for the sake of it felt insensitive to people with genuinely suicidal tendencies.
The next day, Lo’s in pain. Her liver is dying, her kidneys are dying and it all feels like a mistake. It’s realistic to the aftermath of overdosing, but I hated how plot device-y it felt. Like, something tragic was needed to finish the book and this was decided on, but without any discussion of mental health to go along with it. If there had been more of a thread of discontent, of crushing unhappiness, of pain, then I could have seen it working as an ending. But, it stood out as a way to milk more emotion from the sibling relationship, and that alone.
So, not great. Overall, I’m giving the book 2 stars, and I’m really sad to say that I didn’t enjoy it as much as her other books. Paper Butterflies was a difficult read. I was in pieces by the end. Perhaps there was a lot of pressure to follow it up with something similar, but I wasn’t impressed with how the overdosing was handled.
How do you feel about triggering topics in books?