By Michelle Nathan
Hello my lovely book buds! This month I have decided to write a review of a book that I absolutely fell in love with and stormed through in about two days (almost missing my train stop on three different occasions.) WING JONES by Katherine Webber. Hope you enjoy!
SPOILER WARNING: This review contains very minor spoilers.
Wing Jones is a half-Chinese, half-Ghanaian fifteen year old, born and raised in Atlanta and currently living in the golden age of the nineties (the book is set in 1995). She sticks out like a sore thumb at school, while also simultaneously feeling like she’s invisible to her peers (including her brother Marcus’ best friend Aaron, who she’s loved for as long as she can remember). Marcus, star quarterback of the football team, has never had problems fitting in, but when tragedy strikes and Marcus gets into a car accident, Wing must find the strength from the people around her, and from within herself, to hold her family together. During the darkest of times, Wing discovers a new talent, a spark that’s been inside of her all along, waiting to be let loose to lift her spirits and make her feel like she can fly.
Diversity is key – A female protagonist in a YA novel who isn’t white, you say? Who in fact hails from two different races? With a diverse cast of secondary characters, in terms of race AND sexuality?! I could barely believe it either. Webber has done a fabulous job of not only including a diverse cast of characters in her novel, but also managing to represent both sides of Wing’s ethnic background in a way that seems reflective of reality. (Although, you’d of course have to ask someone from a Chinese or Ghanaian background if they feel that Webber has done a good job of representing aspects of their culture through Wing and her family). As a woman of colour, it honestly warmed my heart to read about a girl who felt self conscious about herself because she didn’t conform to white standards of ‘conventional beauty,’ and felt uncomfortable and different in her own skin at times, while never blaming or feeling self-hatred for her heritage. I absolutely saw aspects of myself in Wing in these lights. I also loved getting to read about how her two different cultural backgrounds impacted and shaped her as a person, without the book being solely about her struggles to overcome racism. Her mixed race identity is a part of who she is, but it isn’t all that she is, and I think Webber walked this fine line extremely well. I know that books with diverse characters exist, and this book isn’t necessarily groundbreaking or unique because of these inclusions, but they are few and far between, especially for younger readers. I just need to make a conscious effort to dig a bit harder to find them.
Matriarchal power – Oh, how do I even begin with Lao Lao, Granny Dee and Mama Jones . I don’t know if having grown up in a matriarchal household affected my reaction to this book (four sisters, my ma and pa) but I adored all of the women in the Jones household. Wing and Marcus live with their mother, Mrs Jones, maternal grandma, Lao Lao, and paternal grandma, Granny Dee. The latter two bicker throughout the novel, something that would probably drive me up the wall if I was actually related to them, but find a constant delight in the novel. These three women work so hard in different ways to support their family and deal with the piling mountains of debt, trying to remain strong for Wing and each other during these hard times, while also having ridiculous petty arguments that made me cry-laugh on the train. They reminded me of the strength of women, with rough hands and sore legs, who get up each morning with aching bones and just keep going. Brave, resilient, hilarious, these ladies are EVERYTHING – and their presence in the novel is like a warm hug from a loved one, which can be the most comforting thing in the world.
What’s Love Got To Do With It? – Another thing I loved about the book was Webber’s treatment of the romantic storyline, as instead of being the all encompassing aspect of the book, it is merely one thread in the tangled mess that is Wing’s life. Not to say that this diminishes Wing’s feelings in any way – she even states that when she is with *insert boy’s name here*, she’s afraid of the way he takes up all the room in her brain, being all that she thinks about which makes her lose focus. Wing’s romantic life is, like her racial identity and family life, one aspect of who she is, and Webber has managed to balance all the many qualities that make up ‘Wing Jones’ and display it to the reader in a way that felt genuine and real. It was like stepping into a real person’s life for a few hours, with all its complexities, difficulties and triumphs. And also, (back to the romance thing) it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve really rooted for a couple to get together – Webber has perfected the art of the slow burn romantic build up.
Wrap it up
I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving too much away, but if you’re in need of a book about diverse characters who read as being genuine and true, that’s funny, heart-wrenching and uplifting, then grab a copy of Wing Jones today. Also, look how pretty the book is – IT HAS COLOURED EDGES THAT FADE IN GRADIENT FROM PURPLE TO PINK. It might be the most beautiful thing on my bookshelf right now.
Rating: 5 stars *****