Franny Stone is as delicate and fierce as the Arctic terns she follows. Climate change has succeeded in killing off most wild species of everything - especially birds - but one last flock of Arctic terns are making their pilgrimage down the Atlantic to Antarctica. If Franny can follow them and understand how and why they are able to make this journey and survive, when so many of their species cannot, she may be able to help them continue. After she convinces a taciturn captain to help her, she begins the southward migration onboard the Saghani, a challenged fishing vessel with a colorful crew. As they track the red dots that represent the terns on their navigation software, their seemingly simple mandate to follow the birds to find fish becomes something complex, and Franny's fraught past begins to invade her present. Her sleepwalking is perilous on a boat and she is unable to communicate with her husband Niall. As the boat floats deeper into the wilderness of the Atlantic and Franny's mental state becomes more fragile, her past unfolds for the reader, and it is clear that her struggle for survival is more similar to the birds she follows than even she knows.
What a book this is! I read it in nearly one sitting, or as close to one sitting as my children and household duties would allow. It pulsed with the forward momentum of commercial fiction but it had the teeth and depth of a literary novel. It's hard to categorize for other reasons, too. It is both scientific, a rally to arms (or at least awareness) about climate change and the portrait of a woman's journey through her tragic past to find a way to her future. It tackles marriage and relationships, forgiveness and loyalty, motherhood and family commitments. It is whimsical and tactile and gestures occasionally towards the fairy tale. The writing is spare and beautiful, like the various cold climates it describes, and Franny is a multi-dimensional, compelling, and wholly sympathetic character. This is perfect for book clubs. There is so much here to discuss. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.
Also, I was thrilled to discover that McConaghy is in the editing stages of her second literary novel that will be out next year. Can't wait. It's about a wolf researcher in Scotland. Um, yes. To all of that.
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