The Strangeness and Beauty in Being Young and Flightless
Magical realism is not a genre commonly used for young adult fiction, with authors favouring instead the gritty reality of everyday life in the 21st century. This debut novel by Leslye Walton, however, is drenched in the magical and the effect is a beautiful, sometimes alarming, an always-lyrical exploration of what it is to be young and different.
The story follows three women from three generations of the Roux family. The story centers on Ava, third generation, who was born with the wings of a bird. The reason for this is never explained and is somehow never demanded: it is for various characters to see her either as an angel or a mutant, but the reader is allowed to decide for his or herself.
Several themes collide – religion, lust, family, rejection, fate – but ultimately, it is love which the novel revolves around and its ability to maim as well as to rescue. It is spurned love that causes Ava’s mother, Vivianne, to keep her children from the outside world; it is the love she feels for them which slowly allows her to live again. Until then we follow Ava’s struggle to be a part of the outside world, in which she does not know her place.
It is Ava’s wings which, strangely, make her into a protagonist the reader can identify with. Ava, flightless, is not a bird or an angel, but she is not a girl either. As we witness her entering her teenage years this feeling of not belonging is familiar to all of us. For Ava, there is a definite and visible sign that she is different. For the rest of us, there is just the unsettling tug in our stomachs to remind us that we are different; that everyone else knows what to do with themselves, that everyone else belongs. Ava’s wings are this feeling, made tangible.
Part of the novel’s appeal lies in its refusal to analyze. Ava’s twin, Henry, is selectively mute and capable of drawing very detailed maps of the neighbourhood from memory. The modern reader would most likely diagnose him as autistic, but the novel’s acceptance of Henry as he is without applying any label makes his character much more than simply a mentally disabled boy.
One of the reasons that I feel girls should read this book is its final triumphant message. Too many YA novels imply that when one finds love, all of the other problems in life fix themselves. It doesn’t matter if you have a bad time with a boy or if you don’t like yourself, because when you find the one you belong with then you will be fixed and eternally happy.
This book is about love and its inevitable influence on how we live, but it does not pretend that love is whole and perfect in, and of, itself. Ava is in control of her own life however much fate tries to intervene. This drives home the fact that we are each strong, that we are all somehow winged – and that is a message that should be spread.