An exquisite coming of age story, Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy is a study in character of one teen girl in the aftermath of discovering a devastating family secret.
When fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows discovers that her father has a child from a brief affair, a eight-year-old boy named Thomas who lives in her own suburban New Jersey town, she begins to question everything she thinks she knows about her family and her life. Lucy can’t believe her father betrayed the whole family, or that her mother forgave him, or that her sister isn’t rocked by the news the way Lucy is. Worse, Lucy’s father’s secret is now her own, one that isolates her from her friends, family, and even her boyfriend, Simon, the one person she expected would truly understand. When Lucy escapes to Maine, the home of her mysteriously estranged grandfather, she finally begins to get to the bottom of her family’s secrets and lies.
One of the things that first struck me about Lucy was her utter outrage. Her anger oozes off the pages of Just Fly Away after learning about her father’s affair. In some ways, her reaction seems extreme; volatile and over the top.
Then I remembered how I felt as a teenager. And what I would have felt if I’d learned the same thing about my own father. And I knew I would have reacted very much like Lucy.
Emotions run so high in our adolescence, and McCarthy has captured that larger-than-life, overly dramatic response so elegantly. Lucy’s rage is the driving force behind the story, and while she makes some idiotic choices, she’s also only 15 years old. And 15-year-olds? They make idiotic choices. Lord knows, I did at that age.
McCarthy does a good job of showing the consequences of Lucy’s choices, too. She finds herself in sketchy situations; she doesn’t get enough to eat. She doesn’t understand how much everything costs and runs out of money. Eventually, she has to call for help. Her escape is foolish and risky and sometimes dangerous, and McCarthy shows all the flaws in her plan and let’s both Lucy and the reader know just how lucky she is to make it to her grandfather’s home largely unscathed.
And then we get to my favorite part of the book: Lucy and her grandfather. Their moments together make for a really beautiful bridge in the story — taking us from the instigating disaster in Lucy’s story (learning about her father’s affair), to the ultimate reunion between father and daughter.
In spending time with her estranged grandfather, Lucy starts to understand there’s more to her family than she’s believed. That everyone has made mistakes; everyone has secrets and troubles and challenges to face in life — and that her feelings are hers to own, but also hers to learn to accept and cope with. And she learns she’s not alone in having a troubled relationship with a parent.
Just Fly Away is a quiet book, driven more by character than by plot. But so much happens to these characters — and to Lucy in particular. She grows and learns in ways we’re only capable of in our adolescence. McCarthy really captures the coming of age experience, as Lucy learns more about herself and her family, and the ways our actions shape our relationships. She learns you have to choose whether to fight for your family; that the people you love are worth fighting for, even in the midst of their flaws and mistakes.
An elegant portrayal of love, family, and forgiveness, Just Fly Away is in stores March 28th.