When newly constructed power lines ruin the annual return of the whooping swans Isla and her father rise early to witness, the death of several of the wild creatures and her father’s sudden and severe illness both confound Isla and emphasize her loneliness.
At the hospital where her father awaits a heart operation, Harry, waiting there for a bone-marrow transplant, befriends Isla and points out the young swan he can see from his bed. At the nearby lake the swan, apparently abandoned in its flock’s confusion and panic in the encounter with power lines, seems to imprint on Isla, imitating her, touching her with its beak and wings, gazing into her eyes. The first-person, present-tense narrative works to lend immediacy to Isla’s fear and isolation and to make believable what might otherwise seem mere fantasy. Harry’s lightheartedness adds buoyancy to the narrative, while images of flight and wings emphasize both the frightening and the hopeful. News broadcasts at the edge of Isla’s notice about deadly outbreaks of bird flu contrast with the small unfolding of Isla’s widowed grandfather’s stiff grief as he helps her construct an art project—a harness and wings from an ancient stuffed swan—and innocent romance flutters between Isla and Harry even as the young swan regains flight and her father begins to recover.
Emotionally affecting and remarkably convincing. (Fiction. 10-14)