Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #37: Mercy, Unbound July 11, 2010

This was another used bookstore find.  I was snagged by the title and sold by the cover.  Even the teaser from the back is promising:

“Mercy O’Connor is becoming an angel.

She can feel her wings sprouting from her shoulder blades. They itch. Sometimes she even hears them rustling.

And angels don’t need to eat. So Mercy has decided she doesn’t need to either. She is not sick, doesn’t suffer from anorexia, is not trying to kill herself. She is an angel, and angels simply don’t need food.

When her parents send her to an eating disorder clinic, Mercy is scared and confused. She isn’t like the other girls who are so obviously sick. If people could just see her wings, they would know. But her wings don’t come and Mercy begins to have doubts. What if she isn’t really an angel? What if she’s just a girl? What if she is killing herself? Can she stop?”

I’ve always been a fan of the teen problem novel, and I admit I find the topic of anorexia fascinating.  I figured I couldn’t lose.

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Mercy, Unbound by Kim Antieau

Simon Pulse, 2006

b

I love the delicate, ethereal quality and the fact that they used a brunette model.

b

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

Gr. 9-12. Funny and painfully honest, this debut YA novel by the author of several adult books tells the teenage anorexia story from the viewpoint of Mercy, 15, who denies she has an eating disorder until she is sent to a treatment center in New Mexico. Like her loving mom, Mercy is a strident atheist who wants to save the world, and she feels the political burden of starvation, both past (her Jewish grandmother survived Auschwitz; many in her dad’s Irish family perished during the potato famine) and present (the suffering of AIDS orphans). The plot lurches at the end, the political stuff is sometimes heavy, and Mercy’s wildly misleading comment to her counselor–if she and the other patients “had been born black in South Africa, [we] would most likely have AIDS”–is never challenged or corrected in context. Still, many readers will want this for the family story and for the teen talk, which is fast, frank, and irreverent. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Strengths: The parallel to Shelley’s Prometheus, Unbound is quite clever.  Like Shelley’s play, Antieau’s book is divided into 4 parts, and Mercy’s feelings regarding the suffering she sees in the world mirror those of Prometheus. I really found this to be a unique and clever approach.

Potential Flaws: This book had a great deal of promise.  As I’ve said, I’ve always been a fan of a good problem novel.  But, that being said, I was really disappointed with this read.  The political/moral issues that keep cropping up, although accurate, are heavy-handed.  Further, I felt that this was potentially two novels.  The first was the typical problem novel about anorexia.  Unfortunately, it never really delivered; Mercy’s repeated “I don’t eat because I’m becoming an angel and angels don’t need to eat” really flies in the face of the fact that in truth, anorexia is about body image and control issues.  The “angel” approach trivializes a serious issue.  The second novel was a “what if” story; what if Mercy really WAS becoming an angel?  This was a direction that I was hoping the story would go.  Again, unfortunately, Antieau doesn’t deliver that either.  Ultimately, while the Prometheus parallel was a good one, I also felt that it was one that would most likely be lost on a significant portion of the intended audience.

My Rating:

A disappointment.  Much promise, but not much delivery.  Too many false starts, heavy-handed political issues, and just not much punch.


 

What I’m Reading #31: Growing Wings June 13, 2010

So life happened.  I took an unplanned hiatus from reading.  Just lost interest in it for a while as the rest of life’s drama continued.
Today I went back and picked up a book I started several weeks ago…

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Growing Wings by Laurel Winter

Sandpiper; Reprint edition (January 18, 2010)

I had never heard of this, and only picked it up because I thought the cover was fabulous.

Sweet and whimsical, I think this cover really captures the essence of the story.  The other covers I was able to track down pictures of (much more easily, I might add) aren’t nearly as good a fit, in my opinion…

This one is from the first edition, and looks darker, with a heroine that’s maybe a bit older and more worldly than Linnet (the main character) actually is.  Plus, it makes her look like she has wings INSTEAD of arms, which isn’t the case.  Not my favorite.

The original hardcover is my least favorite cover.  I just don’t like it.  It looks like a poorly lit Christmas decoration.  I MUCH prefer the new edition’s cover.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Amazon.com Review

When 11-year-old Linnet discovers she is growing wings, her bewilderment is confounded by her mother’s obvious distress. As it turns out, her mother also grew wings on the cusp of adolescence, only to have them cut off by her mother. Linnet’s life seems to speed up rapidly after her shocking discovery; she soon finds herself alone on her estranged grandmother’s doorstep, and shortly thereafter, at a type of secret residence for winged people like herself. As she tries to adapt to a life she never expected, Linnet struggles with desires common to anyone who has ever wanted desperately to fit in, while simultaneously seeking to embrace uniqueness.

This unusual novel will strike a chord with young readers who long to both blend in and stand out. Linnet is a sensitive, strong, fallible girl, easy to relate to (in spite of her unusual physical traits). Her adventures as she tries to learn how to fly (just having wings isn’t enough–it takes hard work and practice), make friends, find her mother, and, with her winged community, avoid being noticed by the media, make for an entirely new kind of science fiction-fantasy story–one that soars. (Ages 9 to 12) –Emilie Coulter –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8-When 11-year-old Linnet begins to grow wings, her single mother explains that she, too, experienced the same changes as she approached puberty, but her mother brutally cut off her wings, leading to their eventual estrangement. When Linnet’s mother inexplicably abandons her, the girl finds her grandmother, the only other person she thinks might be able to give her information about her wings. The woman then takes her to a secret sanctuary of winged people and cutwings-those who have lost their wings-in the wilds of Montana. As she and the other young people who live there experiment with flying and have some scary brushes with nosy reporters, Linnet begins to understand that she is not alone in the world and learns some secrets that will help her survive and thrive. Eventually her mother finds her and the residents of the sanctuary make plans for their future. While readers will relate to a preadolescent girl on the brink of big changes questioning her place in the world, the theme often overwhelms the plot, which is driven by several unbelievable contrivances, including Linnet’s mother’s disappearance. Wooden and unrealistic dialogue slows down the first chapter, but after that youngsters will discover a fast-paced and suspenseful fantasy.
Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Gr. 4-6. Eleven-year-old Linnet does not know why her shoulders itch and ache, or why there are weird bumps on them. But Linnet’s mother, Sarah, does: she once grew wings, which her own mother cut off. Now that Linnet’s wings are unfolding, Sarah must find another solution. Linnet winds up in Montana, abandoned by her mother, but taken in by a group whose members have wings or are “cutwings.” This is Winter’s first novel, and there’s some awkwardness in the narrative, including an ending that discloses the existence of a worldwide network of winged people, who send a helicopter, no less, to save Linnet and her roommate, Andy, who are lost in the wilderness. Growing wings is a fascinating premise, but the book is at its best when it is revealing relationships: especially the rivalry between Linnet and Andy, and the jealousy between the winged Linnet and the scarred Sarah. The title and an evocative jacket will draw readers in. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I’ve included a rather overwhelming amount of reviews here, but mostly because I am on the fence about this one.  I agree with some of these reviews in parts and not in others.  (Unlike Booklist’s review, I don’t find the hardcover’s jacket in the SLIGHTEST bit evocative, but that’s irrelevant at this point.)

Strengths: I thought the premise of the story was charming and original, and quite different than anything else available right now.  Winter characterizes Linnet (I really loved this choice of name) remarkably well, and she fits easily into what I would expect of an eleven-year-old.  Too often authors that try to create younger characters make them a little too worldly for their age, I find.  This was not the case in Winter’s tale.  Linnet’s teenage friend Andy is also well-conceived; she’s a much darker girl, frustrated and confined, hoping for something better, and her antagonism toward Linnet and on-again, off-again friendship with her fit perfectly with her personality.

Potential Flaws: While I don’t find the level of weakness in the plot that School Library Journal does (Unbelievable plot contrivances?  Not so much.), I do think there were points of instability in the plot.  The ending is a little abrupt and leaves the reader hanging, and I found myself craving the backstories of the other characters and was disappointed not to get them.

My Rating:

For a charming, original story.

For a story that deserved a little more fleshing-out.

Overall, 3.5 Stars.  Enjoyable to me and most likely to younger readers, esp. young girls.