Book review

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen (2017)

Leelu is unhappy. Quite suddenly and without any warning she has had to leave her lovely home in the sunshine and her smiling, dependable, reassuring father. She leaves with her brother Tiber, and her mother. They come to London. Grey, dark, cold, ugly London. And they are all unhappy. They are unhappy in that quiet way where you don’t talk about your problems. You don’t share your unhappiness perhaps because you don’t quite understand it yourself. Or perhaps because you don’t want to make it worse for others.

Leelu is scared. It’s a big thing to start a new school in a foreign country. Her Mum can’t even take her on her first day because she is at work. So Tiber drops her off on his way to his new school:

‘It’s going to be OK,’ he said. He came over and ducked down so we looked each other directly in the eye. ‘Let me tell you a secret.’
He looked around as though to check that no one was listening. ‘I’m feeling scared about my first day too, Lulu.’ His eyes changed for a moment; they softened, widened. Not often does he ever look afraid of anything. It took me a moment to realize that this was what his eyes were telling me.
‘But we’ll make friends,’ he said. He was trying to sound convincing but his voice seemed just a note too high. ‘We both will. It’ll be easy, you’ll see.’

Leelu is so scared she can’t find her voice, so she doesn’t talk. She can’t talk to the teacher. She can’t understand the lessons. She can’t talk to the other children. She can’t really settle.

Leelu is lonely. Her mother works nights so she goes out after tea. Tiber is supposed to stay in and look after Leelu of course, but Tiber has his own problems. He takes to the streets after dark and leaves Leelu alone.

What Leelu needs is a little bit of magic to help her find her way back to happiness. She needs her Dad to come and join them in London. She needs Tiber and her Mum to be happy again. She needs to find her voice at school so she can make proper friends. And something extraordinary happens, because Leelu finds that little bit of magic that she needs. She finds it in the most extraordinary place - the space between the bin and the metal lamppost outside her new front door. Someone leaves her little tiny gifts. They’re nothing really. Just a pine cone, or an acorn, or a walnut. Stuff like that. But they are clearly meant for her and she learns that if she holds one really tightly in her hand, she can find that little bit of extra strength she needs to get her through her difficult moments.

Well, that’s what friendship is like, isn’t it. You do little things for each other which make each of you stronger together than you would be on your own. With the little bit of magic Leelu finds Betsy living next door. She’s a friend. And she finds the mysterious, well, wondrous really, Mr Bo. He’s a friend. And bit by bit she settles in. She finds she can help Tiber. She can help her Mum. And just maybe, between them all, they can help her Dad too...

Maybe it’s all part of growing up. Leelu’s magic.

There were so many things that were unspoken and that I was scared to ask about, but I knew now that talking was a way of mending things; a special kind of wonder that made things happen.

What can I read next?

Polly Ho-Yen has written other stories which I think you might like too. Have a look at these:

  • Boy in the Tower
  • Where Monsters Lie

I liked very much the way the magic slips in between the pages of this real life story. Sometimes we could all use a little bit of this kind of magic couldn’t we. Just a boost of self confidence as though we have a firm friend standing right behind us. You might like to have a look at this thoroughly enjoyable bit of weird family life by Leander Deeny:

Making friends isn’t always easy. There’s a kind of knack to it I think. Have a look at this lovely adventure by Alex Bell. See how Stella Starflake makes friends, eventually:

And Darkus makes some brilliant new friends at his new school in this quite horrid mystery story by M G Leonard:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Fly Me Home features in these lists: