Phoebe's Reviews > Wings

Wings by Aprilynne Pike
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Dec 06, 09

bookshelves: dubious-genre-works, fantastic-kiddy-lit, kiddie-lit, chick-lit
Read in December, 2009

** spoiler alert ** The premise of Wings is, at least, creative, if not also weird and a little silly. Laurel is a blond, tall, beautiful home schooled girl attending public school for the first time. Her flirtations with a surprisingly popular and studly science nerd are suddenly curtailed when she discovers what seems to be her very first pimple. Over the course of a few days, this zit grows to epic proportions, swelling first to the size of a softball, then exploding overnight to reveal a wing-like flower on the center of her back. It turns out that Laurel's a faerie (Pike's spelling, not mine), and that faeries are plants, not animals. And that the thing on her back isn't a pimple, and isn't wings (don't ask me about the title, then), but is, instead, a reproductive organ meant for manual diddling by sexy faerie men.

Unfortunately, the actual plot doesn't develop far beyond this basic premise, and Pike's writing fails to save the story from its inherent silliness.

In fact, I'd blame Pike's writing for the book's failure overall. The first two hundred-or-so pages of Wings read like a very clunky, very poorly executed draft. Pike's prose is adverb heavy and relies too much on staging when dialog alone would suffice. Here's one of my favorite passages, from the novel's first chapter: “He stood and offered her his hand. He pulled her to her feet and grinned lopsidedly for a minute” (6).

Lopsidedly? That's an awkward mouthful.

This sort of clunky phrasing would be more forgivable if it were more rare, but the novel is chock full of it. Here's another winner, from page 60: “David stared with his mouth slightly open. He stood, hands at his waist, lips pressed together. He turned and walked to his bed and sat down with his elbows on his knees.”

Honestly, the repetitive sentence structure, the contradictory descriptors (is his mouth opened or closed?), and the draft-like quality of these passages drove me batty. I did something I've never before done on a published book: I grabbed a pen and started line editing. This helped me see some of Pike's persistent prose problems: reducing the number of adverbs by half, alone, would have resulted in cleaner, more readable writing. Unfortunately, my own “editing” soon degraded to crass commentary on the characters in the novel, particularly Laurel.

Because Laurel is, unfortunately, completely unsympathetic.

I'm all for realistic and complex characters in YA lit. Characters should breathe—they should be human, with flaws and foibles. But Laurel is neither complex nor realistic. She's written as a petty, shallow, whining girl, but treated as a kind-hearted and flawless princess by both the narrator and the other characters in the book. On more than one occasion she complains about the fashion choices of those around her or the ugliness of those around her (the evil of ugliness and “asymmetry” being one of the novel's overarching themes); she clearly plays the two male characters, Tamani and David, off one another and yet is treated like she's all goodness and light. We're supposed to believe, somehow, despite the inherent ugliness of her personality that, as David tells her, she's both “awesome” and “impossible to stay mad at.”

David isn't the novel's only bumbling idiot. Laurel's parents, particularly, act as no responsible parents would; their contrived blindness to Laurel's myriad flaws (especially her eating habits—more on that in a minute) are later hand-waved away as being due to faerie magic that makes them forget all the weird things about their adopted daughter. However, that didn't make the first two hundred and sixty pages, where we're that they're such hippies that they don't believe in doctors, how they've never taken Laurel to a doctor and even got her exempted from a school physical, any more bearable.

This is particularly true with regard to Laurel's completely disordered eating habits. I know, I know—Laurel is a vegan because she's a plant, but prior to the novel's inception, and throughout most of it, her parents don't know this, and somehow, still, they never bat an eye. We're treated to passage upon passage of vividly disordered eating. Laurel's diet consists of salads, strawberries, canned fruit, and soda. Her mother, a health nut, allows Laurel to guzzle Sprite because “she couldn't argue with the 140 calories per can. That was 140 more than water. At least this way she knew Laurel was getting more calories in her system, even if they were 'empty.'” (11). Later, in the same passage, her mother turns her back while Laurel eats “one peach half and about half a cup of juice” to give Laurel “a modicum of privacy.” But we're told that, despite this, “Laurel felt like she'd lost some imaginary battle.” Heck, if eating a can of peaches is so fraught, how could Laurel's mother, as a supposedly good and responsible parent, not drag her kid to a doctor, no matter how crunchy she is?

These passages, and later ones, where David snaps at a friend who inquires if Laurel's ever sought treatment for her apparent inability to digest “fats” (milk products and meat—Laurel at one point becomes nauseated at the smell of leftovers) read like a classic description of anorexia. While I have faith in Pike's young readership to tell fantasy from reality generally, I don't doubt that these descriptions could also be triggering for those who have experienced eating disorders. What makes them disturbing isn't only their vividness, or their specificity (though those don't help), but the way that Laurel's parents embrace these habits. Laurel hasn't started her period, another classic symptom of anorexia, but we're told that her mother “always shrugged it off.” Later, Laurel has a very disturbing conversation with her father where she points out that the kids at school think her eating habits are weird. He responds: “I don't know anyone who eats more fruits and vegetables than you do. I think that's healthy. And you haven't had any problems, have you?”

Laurel, in a rare moment of astuteness, replies: “Have I ever been to a doctor?”

Good question, Laurel. If I were you, I'd want some answers, too.

I have to admit that once the plot finally kicks into gear—a silly story about some ugly trolls trying to steal her parents' property—it becomes a much more readable novel. I'm not sure if the prose actually improved, or if I didn't notice it once there was something happening beyond Laurel's protracted journey of magical self-discovery. Unfortunately, this plot only starts in the last hundred pages of a nearly three hundred page book. Had Pike been pushed a little more towards conciseness—shearing a hundred or so pages from the novel's first two-thirds, reducing wordiness, tightening up the plot generally—reading Wings might not have been such a painful experience.
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Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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message 1: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Actually, we DO find out that sexy (and flamboyantly gay seeming) Tamani has been secretly following her for years! Luckily, there's no manhandling--Laurel is too "fragile" for that.

Thank you!

message 2: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Sorry?

message 3: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe If you take a look at the rest of my reviews, you'll find that I don't give positive reviews easily--but I was certainly hoping to be surprised by this one, thanks to what I thought was a creative premise. But the writing and pacing are just really weak. This was a sloppy book--better editing could have helped, although the central premises remain problematic.

To be fair, after I wrote the review, I combed back (through over two years of entries) through Pike's blog to find out the whole publishing story. My summary wasn't far off: Stephenie Meyer handed off a previous MS of Pike's to her agent. Meanwhile, it racked up over a hundred rejections. It was finally accepted, but still hasn't found publication; instead, Pike was encouraged to write a YA novel for Jodi Reamer (Meyer's agent). Having a well connected friend clearly had something to do with her success. That doesn't mean she's inherently talentless or anything of the sort, but I stand by what I said about her dearly needing a more stringent editor for this book.

message 4: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Shockingly plausible? That's an interesting descriptor for one of the most implausible books I've read in ages. The characters really didn't act in a way I saw as plausible at all--merely convenient for the already weak plot. Take, for example, Laurel's health and eating issues: it was fairly apparent that her parents were hippies who didn't believe in doctors not because it made them stronger, more realistic characters, but because it allowed for an (implausible) big reveal of her true identity.

If you're saying that I need to network with other authors, I have an MFA and work for a sci-fi rag; I network with other authors plenty. I feel that it would be dishonest to give a positive review on a book that I felt was frankly terrible for lit world popularity points. I also see responding critically--either positively or negatively--to the books that I read to be instrumental to my own editing and writing process. If we can't see what we hate or love about other writers, it's going to be even harder to see what's wrong with our own writing. To be fair to Pike, my drafts are filled with said-bookisms, too. But I'd be pretty aghast if they ever went to print that way.

(Full disclosure on popular book haterage: Rowling is fine; have never read Stephenie Meyer.)

message 5: by Phoebe (last edited Dec 06, 2009 05:06PM) (new) - added it

Phoebe No argument on the oft-terrible taste of MFAs. I honestly have no idea what you're getting at with the Wordsworth quote, though. I really do think reading voraciously and responding critically to the books you voraciously read are the best way to sharpen tools in a writers' toolkit, so to speak.

Whether this MS or another was passed on from Meyer to Jodi Reamer is, frankly, irrelevant. Pike was equally vague about the specifics in the original comment that led me to the book, and I included the anecdote for completeness and transparency. To illustrate how rare her initial four-book deal is, she was originally commenting on an agent's blog in response to a question about querying first books in a series. The agent said that debut authors should always try to produce a stand-alone draft because sales successes aren't guaranteed with unknown authors. Pike's situation is rare, and, I think, unique in a large part because of her relationship with Meyer--and she admitted as much. Trifling over the specifics here is just silly.

I'm curious; you said you had access to a galley copy, and I see that you've been pretty active in responding to negative reviews here: for the sake of equal transparency, do you have a relationship with Pike?

message 6: by Phoebe (last edited Dec 06, 2009 05:08PM) (new) - added it

Phoebe (Regarding Laurel's parents: I still feel that their identity was mostly a plot convenience and didn't contribute to their feelings of realness as characters. I got the feeling that she was trying to specifically craft a situation that would excuse the holes in the plot rather than exploring what would have been a more interesting premise--what would really happen if a teenage girl found out she was a faerie, or fairy, or whatever? Clearly, your perspective, and opinion, may vary.)

message 7: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe No--but I thought that your quickness to launch ad hominem attacks (negative reviewers are "vultures"--Pike must have "snubbed me in highschool"), combined with references to having advanced access to the book seemed suspect. I also saw that her husband responded to at least one amazon review, so I felt on guard for this sort of thing. Apologies if I was mistaken. My guess is that you're a bookseller, then? If I'm to have my professional credentials and activities (whether or not I'm spending enough time making connections with other authors, whether my degree makes my opinions worthless, whether I'm writing reviews when I should be writing fiction), it seems only fair that you share equally.

Yeah, I get it: you think great art is ruined with dissection. I disagree, firstly, that this book is great art, and, secondly, that great art can't endure critique. I also think that being able to see the strength and weaknesses even of work you love is important if you're to work in that same medium. I take it you're likely to disagree; that's fine.

I agree with you that the most important aspect of writing is writing. Frankly, though, any good writer worth his or her salt will be spending just as much time both reading and editing. I'm sure you don't feel that your time spent arguing here about the merits of books is wasted. I don't either. The difference may be that I view it as part of my professional training. You certainly are allowed to feel that it's a waste of my time, but frankly, I don't think this argument is a productive one if your intention was to make me feel ashamed of what I admitted even initially were biases; all it's doing is making me feel more weary toward the subject at hand, namely, the book.

message 8: by Phoebe (last edited Dec 06, 2009 06:07PM) (new) - added it

Phoebe Who's to say but that you might have been more willing to suspend your disbelief had you not expected to hate the book from the get-go?

No, honestly, I don't think I would have liked it more. Like I said, my interest was piqued by the premise despite sour grapes. I found the first chapter's stylistic problems to be really overwhelming (comment to my husband: "This is terrible. I don't know if I can do this")--I really only read further because I'd heard of its publishing success in advance, and hoped the book would redeem itself. Had I not, I doubt I would have read further.

message 9: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Fair enough, though, again, if you take a look at my reviews, you'll see pretty plainly that I like plenty of books that are meant primarily to entertain: LJ Smith, Star Trek novels. I don't think a book's entertainment value should let it escape censure, though. Like this book, or an old Alien Nation novel I read a few months ago by Longyear. Man, was that thing terrible. Worse than this, but not much.

In arguments like these, I often think back to this sci-fi book I read years ago, The Merro Tree. There was a quote in it along the lines of: "Critics? We have nothing to fear from critics. What we have to fear are censors."

Whether I'll create something of value remains to be seen, but if I do: I look forward to your one star Goodreads review!

message 10: by Catherine (last edited Dec 06, 2009 06:33PM) (new) - added it

Catherine I didn't enjoy Wings either, and pretty much for the reasons you have set out here.

Mikayla There's no reason to ruin the book for everyone else just because you don't like it. I liked it a lot. But you seriously have a lot on your mind. You have an intelligent mind and I think you could make a book with NO flaws because you seem to notice EVERYTHING wrong. Call me unperceptive but i didn't notice the small things and I just enjoyed the book.

message 12: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Right: reviewers of creative works should be perceptive, because their perceptions inform potential readers to things they may or may not like about a book.

message 13: by Catherine (new) - added it

Catherine @Elizabeth: I was just wondering that. I've noticed it happen before elsewhere with Wings, so not surprised.

message 14: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Yup, it seems like anyone who criticizes this book on here is getting attacked by some sort of sock puppet. I tried to friend the guy after our argument, but he never responded. Surprise surprise.

message 15: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Thanks, I appreciate the feedback! I remember what it was like to be a young, passionate fan (for me it was Anne McCaffrey), so I understand where all the vitriol is coming from with these YA novels.

Alyssa Thomas Wonderful review! I am not finished with Wings yet, but I had been bothered by everything you mentioned so I had to stop reading for a bit and check out what the people at goodreads thought. I agree with absolutely everything you said! I think Laurel is such a poorly developed character with no personality and David...oh, jeez, I'm not even gonna start haha!

message 17: by Phoebe (new) - added it

Phoebe Glad you liked it, Alyssa! I've been really stunned by the number of positive reviews this clunker has garnered (the amazon reviews are even worse!).

Alyssa Thomas Haha, no problem!

I think I'm even more disappointed with it because I have been wanting to read it for awhile because of all the positive reviews I have seen...but after the first chapter I knew it wasn't going to be what I expected...and not in a good way! I will probably finish the dang thing today or tomorrow, just to get it over with!

message 19: by Katya (new) - rated it 1 star

Katya I think you really hit the nail on the head here.

Not simply because your review is great (it sure is), but also because books DO have an impact. Older readers can take things easier in stride, but younger, impressionable ones make a lot more of a book than it really is. A few days ago I read a review of "Hush, hush" by Becca Fitzpatrick - one of the commentors was complaining that it was unjust and that people who thought otherwise had no taste in books. If "Wings" really is as bad as you say, then I dread to see what will happen if Disney glorifies it.

Admittedly, Stephenie Meyer has blurbed some pretty good books as well - Austenland, The Hunger Games, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society...

message 20: by Lucy (last edited Feb 15, 2011 08:59AM) (new)

Lucy I'm having an almost impossible time getting through this book. The food issues caught me so off guard I had to read the whole scene with the peach three times to make sure I was understanding it. I felt like I had to backtrack and re-read the entire start of the novel just in case I missed some sort of justification for it beyond Laurel being a vegan.

It looks like your review pissed off the YA mafia/YA sockpuppets. I saw a blogger review of Shiver where the author made an appearance and /argued/ back and forth for posts then made thinly veiled threats about the reviewer's future in YA lit if she reviewed other authors (I think Carrie Ryan) in the same fashion. I can dig around for the blog if you wanna check it out.

Your review was excellent, fair, and concise. I wish I'd read it before I started this.

message 21: by Mike (new)

Mike "...(the evil of ugliness and “asymmetry” [are] one of the novel's overarching themes)..."

Wait, what? Are you kidding me? That's just horrible on so many levels! Who the fuck would write that?

message 22: by Maria (new)

Maria Rae Wow, that bit about being a vegan because she's a plant nearly made my eyes bleed!
I know I'm only a low-level horticulturalist, but I know exactly what plants "eat": a whole lot of minerals, many of which they gain from decaying animals and manure.


Saviourofmusic This review is my favourite- you said it all!

message 24: by Lari (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lari I really love the way you described this book. You were able to point out a lot of the things that didn't feel quite right but that I simply couldn't put into words (or, in the case of Laurel's veganism, I was so bored at the beginning of the book I didn't *want* to think about anything more than I had to).

The whole pretty=good, ugly/asymmetrical=bad threw me off, too. I would have thought that as time went on since I was a teenager, there would be less focus on the 'oh so pretty' main character, but maybe that's what teenage girls just want - to live vicariously through these characters for a while instead of worrying about their own looks.

Despite myself,I did enjoy the book, especially when the action built up but it really did take to long.

message 25: by Amy (last edited Jun 21, 2013 02:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy "but is, instead, a reproductive organ meant for manual diddling by sexy faerie men"

Holy sh*t, I almost blew my fried rice all over my iPad when I read that! LOL!!

And Tamani leaving his, um, "pollen" on her arm? Ew. Just ew.

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