So, here it is; one summer, three months and a challenge created by Cathy (@cathy746books) at 746books.com to make a dent in the toppling TBR stack. This year, I have opted for the 10 books challenge due to time constraints! Thank you Cathy for hosting!
My fourth book of the summer has been sitting on my TBR stack since I won it in a Twitter giveaway at the end of June. I knew that I would have to wait until I was on annual leave to read it, as I was certain that once I picked it up, I would have to finish it in one sitting. It is the follow up to The Skylarks’ War, one of my favourite books published in the last few years, an exquisite family saga set during the First World War. The Swallows’ Flight continues the story of some of the characters from Skylarks’ over the years 1931 until 1946, as well as introducing fascinating new characters, including Erik and Hans, two young Berliners.
It will be obvious from the dates that this novel is set in the years leading up to, as well as during, WWII. Award-winning writer Hilary McKay tells her story from the perspectives of both German and English characters, showing the legacy of the First World War on the lives of families from both sides and the way in which youngsters, who are only a couple of years older than the readers of the story, were then swept up into the battles of WWII. The elegant imagery of the swallows that flits through the story from the very first page is utter perfection, as they dart like arrows, fly in their colonies and attempt hazardous journeys to return to their old nesting places year after year. Foreshadowing does not come much better than this. The lasting importance of seemingly small acts of kindness is apparent, as is the necessity of remaining true to yourself despite the circumstances in which you find yourself. The book is written sensitively for a KS3 audience but does not shy away from dealing with the heart-breaking realities of war; be prepared to shed a few tears in the latter section.
I love the way that Hilary McKay’s writing allows time and space for character development. She gifts young readers with a gentle unfolding of plot through the most perfectly observed characterisation and dialogue. There is not a line wasted, every incident and description makes its contribution to the final resolution. Her presentation of family dynamics is so precise that you find yourself living alongside her protagonists and utterly believing in their reality. In this novel, the dual narratives of the Second World War seen through teenage experiences in both England and Germany is perfectly judged to help tweens and teens empathise with children caught up in events over which they have no control.
I think that The Swallows’ Flight will be greatly enjoyed by mature readers in Year 6 as well as KS3 readers. It’s actually an ideal book to put into the hands of an 11-14 year old before the summer holidays end, so that they will have the chance to immerse themselves in this thoughtful, poignant and powerful novel and have room to reflect on its themes of loyalty and following your heart. In my opinion, this book and its prequel will be future classics; the perfect crafting of plot and character ensure that they live on in the heart and mind long after you have closed the final page. I cannot praise this book highly enough!
I am most grateful to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me a proof copy of The Swallows’ Flight after I entered a giveaway competition on Twitter.