Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review: Wing Jones

Wing Jones, Katherine Webber
One of the highlights on Walker's YA new release shelves this season is Wing Jones.  What a treat!  In addition to enjoying the luxury of starting and finishing a book within a day (a long dental appointment + sick kids languishing in front of movies + a contemporary world-build requiring minimal slow-down), I thoroughly enjoyed finding Webber has written such a tasteful and relevant debut.  There is a lot to praise here.
  • I want to start by applauding the authenticity-censorship balance that's been struck here.  I'm often disappointed to find authors dishing up more grit in teenage journeys than I care for; especially in contemporary novels.  I get that plenty of teenagers live and breathe the grit, and suggesting things don't get messy, dark, and experimental isn't realistic...HOWEVER, too often I've encountered a dangerous suggestion that the gritty avenues are the only roads worth traveling!  Many titles I've read in the past two years would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of even one likable character who debunked the stereotype that all teens need smoke, drink and have sex early.  I think it's criminal for popular culture to reinforce the notion there is one banal way to approach adolescence, and that way is the riskiest route on offer.   Webber deserves hat-tips galore for representing a cross-section of youth, and among them, a heroine who makes sensible choices in the face of criticism for being different.  I wanted to applaud but I wasn't going to put the book down!  Not only is there a role model here, Webber presents alternatives -- a range of characters whose approach venture down those riskier roads -- some likable, some less so (a separate feat, in and of itself).  When characters make poor choices, there are consequences.  Not fleeting ones either -- there are very real, hard-hitting, long-term ramifications for irresponsible behaviour. 
  • Now more on Wing, the title character.  I have a confession to make.  When this book arrived in the March headliners promotion box I was indifferent.  I liked the cover art, but figured it was a sports story I'd get to when I could.  Then I flipped it.  And there, staring back at me on the reverse were the words of Laini Taylor.  Never have I been so suckered by an endorsement in my life.  And what did Laini have to say?  That she fell in love with Wing Jones.  Then and there this book bumped up my list, and I was eager to meet this girl Laini was so taken with.  In addition to finding her brave and different -- in terms of her chosen course during her teenager years -- Wing is Afro-Asian, cares deeply for her family, and works hard.  Oh. my. goodness.  Each of those points deserves its own tributary essay of celebration!  We need more characters like Wing Jones!  But there are more characters that need space in this review.
  • The love story develops in a really healthy way.  Hallelujah.  Its birth is reasonable, the restraint is honorable, the details of the reality of infatuation are still there, and yet...there again -- the balance.  There are no sex scenes in this book.  There are references to the reality that other characters are sexually active (including the long-term consequences this may lead to), but the sensuality is limited to kissing, sleeping near each other, and embraces.  
  • The male love interest is decent.  Second refrain of heavenly chorus!  There are so many withdrawn males in YA fiction.  Or outright jerks.  And the accompanying female protags come back for more!  I've more than once before squeezed in my personal exhortations here, to still-searching readers; hold out hope for males that are decent!  Do not settle for someone who treats you like crap because "he's hot" or because when he insults you or ignores you in front of his friends you know deep down he really likes you.  Find a real man.  Wing Jones finds someone decent who not only expresses his feelings and is kind and supportive, he respects boundaries and is loyal.  Ladies, listen to Wing!  The guy's character is also carefully rendered to be a great guy, whilst being reasonable flawed.  I feel like Webber is keepin' it real; don't seek perfection, but seek kindness and respect!
  • The supporting characters are fleshed out well, furnishing the narrative with further diversity and interest.  From half-way I was really impressed by particular players who went up a notch in my estimations, they really added value to Wing's identity and the overall story's depth.
  • I don't think the story is foremost a "sport story."  It's a survival story.  Wing Jones survives grief and discrimination, sport is how.  I think the emphasis lays more in the healthy management of difficult things than on sport itself (in case the sport aspect lacked appeal for you), however -- there's enough of a competitive drive in there that sport enthusiasts will appreciate it too.  I was thrilled to see such an excellent, engaging case study of finding a sense of belonging in wholesome recreational activities, instead of the bevy of popular substitutes.
  • The authenticity-censorship balance also sees profanity kept in check, with a handful or less of the S-cuss (and I don't recall any blasphemy). 
  • The writing is confident and solid and delightfully compelling. Not overly poetic, but occasional metaphors brighten the prose.
  • The final treat: in addition to being a survival story (with a bi-racial, worthy heroine!), Wing Jones is also magical realism!  BOOYA!
If you enjoyed any two of: Okay for Now, Liar, The Honest Truth, and Sylvie the Second, I'd wager this book's a lock for you.   I'll be holding off sharing this one with my girls until around age 14, but passionately recommending this tasteful slice of uplifting authenticity to many other teens I know nowThank you, Webber, you're a rare breed of Balancer Extraordinaire indeed!

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