Review of The Swallows' Flight

The Swallows’ Flight
by Hilary McKay
Intermediate, Middle School    McElderry    288 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-6659-0091-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6659-0093-5    $10.99

McKay plunges us back into the doings of the Penrose family (The Skylarks' War previously titled Love to Everyone, rev. 11/18), this time exploring the lives of the generation born between the world wars. The story spans almost twenty years as we move between Kate in Oxford, Ruby in Plymouth (Clarry’s goddaughters, both), and two German boys in Berlin — best friends Erik and Hans — as they deal with siblings and families, grapple with their own fears and desires, and meet the challenges of drastically changing times as World War II descends. McKay has a positive genius for the tight dovetail of character, incident, and plot: as these lives become entwined, that genius is everywhere at work — from the novel’s first sentence (“One summer, when he was ten years old, Erik became famous for buying dead flies”) to Ruby’s distress about her facial birthmarks, to the story’s moving, satisfying conclusion. Precise, evocative detail (“Every leaf was heavy with dew, and the flowers hung like wet laundry”) gives this a persistent, vivid freshness, but even more fresh and compelling is McKay’s compassionate, sometimes humorous, take on human character and her understanding of youthful feelings.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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