48 pages 1 hour read

Kristin Hannah

Fly Away

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


Formerly an attorney, Kristin Hannah is the author of more than 20 novels, many of which have been New York Times bestsellers. They often focus on family dynamics, the power of friendship, and the resiliency of the human spirit. Some novels—like The Nightingale and Four Winds—weave historical details and events with fiction.

Fly Away is the sequel to Firefly Lane, which centers on the lifelong friendship between Kate Mularkey and Tallulah “Tully” Hart. Tully rises to fame as a popular television talk show host while Kate marries and has three children. A cancer diagnosis strikes Kate in adulthood, and she passes away despite vigorous chemotherapy. Fly Away focuses on the aftermath of Kate’s death as Tully and those in Kate’s life attempt to carry on without her.

In 2020, Firefly Lane was adapted into a ten-episode television series by Netflix. A film version of The Nightingale, Hannah’s bestselling book, is in production.

This guide references the hardcover version published in 2013 by St. Martin’s Press.

Content Warning: This guide and the source material reference sexual assault, self-harm, substance use disorder, and suicide.

Plot Summary

The novel begins in 2010. Tully Hart leaves a movie premiere and finds herself in a bar, kissing a strange man. She walks to her Seattle condo in the rain only to discover amid her neglected mail a celebrity magazine focusing on Tully’s substance use disorder. Tully does not remember what happens next. A few hours later, Johnny Ryan is awoken by a phone call telling him to come to the hospital for Tully Hart. On his way, Johnny recalls his wife’s funeral in 2006. The plot shifts back to 2006.

Johnny’s wife, Kate Ryan, has died of cancer. Johnny struggles through the service, trying to be strong for his teenage daughter, Marah, and twin sons. Tully, Kate’s best friend, does not attend the service, but afterward Johnny finds her in the church parking lot, dancing to music she plays on an iPod. This behavior continues at the reception at the Ryan household that follows the funeral. Johnny, mired in his grief and unsure how best to support his children—especially Marah, who refuses to engage with him—decides a change of scenery is what is needed and plans for a trip to Hawaii. Tully, whose lifelong friendship has earned her a place as a family member, is shocked when Johnny does not allow her to travel with them. The trip is an effective getaway for Johnny and the boys, but Marah grows increasingly distant. Before the trip ends, Johnny decides he will accept a job offered to him previously and makes plans to move the family from their home on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, to Los Angeles.

The narrative shifts to Tully’s point of view as she recounts the same period in 2006. She clarifies that the music and dancing at Kate’s funeral is done per Kate’s instructions. When the Ryans are away in Hawaii, she makes plans to resume her job as a television talk show host (having taken time off during Kate’s illness) but is shocked to learn the show has been cancelled. Unsure what to do, she heads to the Ryans’ home and takes it upon herself to clean out Kate’s closet; Johnny is outraged to find her there. When the family moves to Los Angeles, Tully keeps in touch with Marah, her goddaughter, but begins suffering from panic attacks, for which she is prescribed Xanax. At times, the narrative shifts back to the present in 2010, as Johnny arrives at the hospital to learn that Tully has suffered brain damage after crashing her car.

Meanwhile, Marah is in her early twenties, living in Portland, Oregon. She barely makes ends meet and lives with a group of peers, many of whom struggle with addiction and substance use disorders. She recalls the move to Los Angeles and the narrative shifts back in time.

Marah, angry at Johnny for uprooting her and unable to cope with her mother’s death, blends into the background at her new school, refusing to make friends. She begins to cut herself with a small pocketknife—a practice that continues until her graduation day, when Tully learns what Marah has been doing. Marah agrees to see a therapist Tully knows on the condition that Johnny allows her to temporarily move in with Tully. At this point, it is 2008 and Marah is a few months away from beginning college. In Seattle, neither Marah nor Tully address their grief successfully. Marah attends therapy and group counseling sessions but refuses to participate. She meets an older boy named Paxton and, drawn to him by his “goth” look and nonconformist attitude, Marah finds herself swept into a life consumed by alcohol. Tully, too, sinks further into her substance use disorder as she tries to revive her career. She accepts a TV position that is beneath her former acclaim, but quickly quits. She decides, instead, to write a memoir. To do this, however, Tully must face her past: a painful time in which she was first abandoned, then neglected by her mother. She continues to suffer from the loss of Kate, insisting that Kate’s friendship saved her. Tully discovers Marah has been lying to her about having a job and instead is spending time in a sexual relationship with Paxton. Flashing forward to 2010, Marah learns of Tully’s accident, she asks Paxton to accompany her on the trip back to Seattle.

Back in 2008, fall arrives, and Tully and Johnny assist Marah in moving to the University of Washington. While Marah is away, Tully sinks further into her substance use disorder, often ending up at the hospital believing she is having a heart attack when in truth she is suffering from panic attacks. She grows increasingly distant from the Ryan family and has a falling out with Johnny when he learns that Marah is continuing to date Paxton while in college. Angered by Johnny’s control, Marah drops out of college and moves to Portland with Paxton.

In the present, 2010, Marah is joined by her grandparents at the hospital as Tully is placed in a medically induced coma. At various times, the narrative shifts to Tully’s point of view while comatose—Kate is with her, and she walks Tully through key memories from her past. As the bedside vigil continues, Tully’s mother, Dorothy, arrives and she talks to Tully, revealing the life story that she has intentionally withheld from Tully to her for the first time. It is a life of suffering, abuse, and mistreatment, which leads to a substance use disorder. Ultimately, Dorothy achieves sobriety and reforms her life. Gradually, more details from the night of Tully’s car accident are revealed and it appears likely that the crash was an attempt to die by suicide.

The remainder of the novel largely remains in the present of 2010. Tully is brought out of the medically induced coma in hopes that she will be able to awaken on her own. Dorothy asks to be able to care for her, and Tully is moved to Dorothy’s home. Meanwhile, surrounded by her family, Marah comes to the realization that Paxton is harmful for her and does not truly love her in the way that others do. The guilt she feels at having sold the story referenced in the opening scene about Tully to the celebrity magazine mounts, as Marah is certain that Tully wanted to die by suicide after reading it. Marah frequently visits Tully at Dorothy’s home, finally seeking out the journal that Kate had left for her. A year passes, but one day Tully shows signs of waking up. She is brought back to the hospital where the narrative fluctuates between her family—Dorothy, the Ryans, and Kate’s parents—and Tully speaking to Kate in a sort of afterlife state. Kate tells Tully she must decide whether to remain with her or remain with the living. Tully chooses to return to her life and, though her full recovery will take time, she takes steps to repair the severed relationship between her and Johnny and her and Marah.

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