C.G. Drews's Reviews > All of Us with Wings

All of Us with Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil
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bookshelves: magical-fantasy, read-2019, adult

I'm finding this impossible to rate because I truly believe it's not YA. 👀This one is controversial in the YA community and I really want to acknowledge everyone's concerns. I don't think this is a "role model" book, but I also don't think it's meant to be. I also read an eARC which didn't have the author's note (my friend showed me the author's note from her finished copy) and it feels very very crucial to read that before the book. It lists trigger warnings and explains just how deeply an #ownvoices it story is: from the trauma and life experiences to the representation of what it is to be mixed race.

//this review will be long; also it's not so much a review as a discussion of the topics the book brought up.


➢ First off: It's not YA.
I think marketing it as YA is a huge injustice to the book itself. Look I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking (a) the cover is so cute and pretty! and (b) the story sounds super fun.

... it is not a "fun" book. It tackles a lot of very dark content from sexual assault, childhood abuse and neglect, to hard drugs usage. There are scenes in strip clubs, underage characters do heroin, it infers that young girls are being sexually trafficked/abused, casual usage the c-word, and there are macabre piercings etc. Not to mention there is romance/lust between Xochi (17yo) and the father of the kid she's nannying (he's 28). That's illegal and pedophilic. But more on that soon.

I am not saying that teens shouldn't/can't read this kind of content. I suspect the author lived this life as a teen and I know thousands of other teens have this as their reality. Hence I don't want to stomp in here from my place of privilege and crow "bUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN." The children can think for themselves. But I still call it adult lit because when you go into YA there are boundaries and rules, even if it makes things less-than-true to real life. This just broke so many YA stylistic rules: even from having the entire cast be adults, quite a few adult POVs, and whenever the 12yo narrated it was really just as a lens to see the adults' lives. It was so very adult-centric. And you can have teen narrators in adult books alright. No one is calling Game of Thrones, where Rob is 16 in book one and Arya is 10 (and they're the main narrators) YA or middle grade. It's about content, themes, and expectations and delivery.

I don't think teens will read this and go "oh so it's normal to go out and do heroin" but when you go in expecting YA and get adult, you're not ready for the angle it's taking.


➢ Secondly: Let's talk about the "romance".
A few reviewers have expressed horror and disgust at the romance being between the 17yo and the 28yo and I am right there with you. For me, that's inherently problematic and I don't believe the ending firmly took that angle enough. (view spoiler) I don't think the book was condoning it or calling it exemplary behaviour....but it felt romanticised. Which is not okay.

What made it worse though was that Leviticus (the 29yo) was constantly talking about HOW Xochi was so young. He infantilised her in one breath, then 2 seconds later he was justifying that she was mature for her age and so maybe being attracted to her wasn't wrong. Um...matey, that's such predatory thinking it really was disgusting. But at the same time he was, presented, as this very nice guy. He's a rockstar who doesn't like the fame. He was very soft and gentle to his family, very careful to hide his attraction to Xochi at first. But every time we were in his POV, it was this string of justifications for him lusting after a 17yo. He even references Lolita and talks about how it's a power imbalance to have a huge age gap. Another character makes a comment that Leviticus "usually" goes for girls who are a lot younger. It was consensual; Xochi was lusting after him too. But that doesn't make it okay!

Also they kept saying "We need to put Pallas first." As in, the 12yo that Xochi is a governess for. And then in the next breath they were doing exactly the opposite of that. 🙄

What I wish: was that Leviticus could've been an older brother of Pallas or something. (Instead of her dad.) Maybe 20 or 21 making that age-gap a bit worrisome but nowhere NEAR this level of predatory/pedophile. Because honestly there were so many parts of the book where I was like "wow this is important and I like this book" but I CAN'T get passed how wrong the romance was. Take out the romance and I'd have really liked the story.


➢ Three: there was magical realism which was great but also confusing.
Xochi and Pallas do this "fake" summoning but it actually works and they end up bringing forth these "waterbaby" spirits, some kind of fey, who then become attached to Xochi and decide to avenger her. And she's had a Traumatic childhood so like, heck, they have a lot to work on. However she doesn't know that's what's happening. She was unconscious (DRUNK; WHILE BABYSITTING) when they came.

PSA: Xochi is actually a terrible governess and while Pallas is loved intensely by the whole family...she's still super neglected.

I did think this magical aspect was going to be more, but it was less. The neighbourhood CAT actually narrated most of what was happening with the magical part. My eARC's formatting wasn't particularly great either, so a lot of chapters were confusing with paragraphs running together. Sometimes the style, particularly for the magical parts, was really ethereal and I honestly had no idea what was happening. (Kinda like are the characters having an acid trip right now 😳is the reader joining them. helpity help.)


➢ Four: Found Family aka a trope I DO so enjoy.
Pallas' family is this intensely famous rockband who all live together in an extravagant house and they're basically the crazy, messed-up found-family I want to read about. (Except there were a lot of band members and I couldn't keep them straight because they didn't have that much page time to develop.) But they were weird and sort of wonderful and I get why Xochi was intoxicated with them and in love.

Pallas is basically this genius precocious 12yo who knits and discusses philosophy and is terrified of making friends her own age. She's a total sweetie, and like I said: they love her. BUT THEY NEGLECT HER SO BAD. Xochi spends next to no time actually taking care of Pallas so also...how did you get hired, dear?

I also loved the diversity of the family; lots of POC characters, literally no one was straight, there were a lot of open or polyam relationships. They were enigmatic and mystical and artists. They were also somehow intensely loving and also selfish. Aka: they were flawed, imperfect and problematic. But that was the point, too?

I ended up really liking Kylen, who was basically the Hufflepuff family attack dog. (Also psychic and gay.) I couldn't even name the other band members lmao they did not have much development.

So a book full of problematic characters who sometimes admit to it and sometimes don't? That's fair to write. It felt like the author wasn't tell you who was good vs bad. Rather leaving it up to you to decide.


➢ Five: This is a story about healing.
Which is important and I really felt the ache through it; especially with Xochi coming to admit that she'd been raped (instead of telling herself it had been consensual just because she never spoke) and coming face to face with a lot of past demons where she could decide to forgive or at least to get closure for.

It's a story of messy and horrifying happenings, sometimes on page and sometimes not. It's an uncomfortable story that requires a lot of thought and unpacking. It's really easy to say "nope nope" because of the amount of problematic content. But I still wonder if that's not just the POINT here. But when it's YA, you do need some calling outs of things (ie: the pedophile romance) instead of kind of half/and/half condemning it. Confusingly, it called out so much other stuff too. Racism and abuse and casual sexism. It had so many themes of empowerment and justice and healing.

Hence I finished it with a LOT of thoughts. Like I said: this book is a lot to unpack. I buddy read it with @anovelescape and we discussed it a lot afterwards and shared perspectives. That really helped me think about it on more than just surface level.


Look I don't know if I recommend it or not? I had to not view it from my privileged perspective (like sheltered childhood; white; have a stable family etc) and just tried to listen to what the author wanted to say about lives some people are forced to live. The book is confronting and it's NOT a book of role-model behaviour. But it's also a very personal story about abuse survivors.



tl;dr
has problematic themes but maybe that's the point of the book. magic was a little confusing. romance was gross. Pallas was adorable 10/10 would die for her. everyone needs therapy.
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Reading Progress

May 26, 2018 – Shelved
May 26, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 2, 2019 – Started Reading
July 3, 2019 –
30.0% "honestly 😬this book reads like adult lit and I think perspectives of it would be wildly different if that's how it was marketed"
July 6, 2019 – Shelved as: read-2019
July 6, 2019 – Shelved as: magical-fantasy
July 6, 2019 – Shelved as: adult
July 6, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Yusra (new)

Yusra  ✨ this is such a well written review! I loved it!


message 2: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews Yusra wrote: "this is such a well written review! I loved it!"

Thanks! I did put a lot of thought into it. 🙈


message 3: by Brianna (new)

Brianna Silva A common mistake that I think happens with many YA controversies is people think that portraying something in fiction is the same thing as promoting something. It's possible to write problematic themes without the book itself being problematic. I don't know if this book is one of those, as I haven't read it myself, but your review here is refreshing, as I can tell you understand the difference. Or put more bluntly, you understand how fiction works, something too many reviewers caught up in overblown controversies seem to not understand 🙃🙃 (forgive the generalized statement, but I think you know what I mean)


message 4: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews Brianna wrote: "A common mistake that I think happens with many YA controversies..."

I do know what you mean and my opinion is 🙃about it too. It very much frustrates me that reviewers often call for "black and white morals" in YA. I think teens are cleverer than that and can handle ambiguity and worlds were bad things happen. And I think it's diminishing to authors (especially POC authors) when we charge in here saying their experiences are problematic. (I'm thinking about the Blood Heir controversy too eeeerahsogh.) But YES authors can write about bad things and not say they're good omg.


message 5: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Partida Very well written review especially with the context of the story.


message 6: by Brianna (new)

Brianna Silva @CG Eeeexactly. It's kind of infantilizing, like "oh these kids can't handle reading about anything bad!!" But they're... teenagers. They're not 5-year-olds. They can handle mature themes and topics. They can handle complexity and morals that aren't clear-cut. They're old enough to think for themselves, to engage with the text, to disagree with it.

And I can't stand that thing where real experiences end up getting deemed problematic!! Agh! A side effect of trying to make the world, and literature, super simple and able to fit in little, clear-cut boxes is that people's actual experiences — as messy and complicated as they often are — get dismissed and trampled on. That's... backwards.

Oh yes, Blood Heir is a perfect example of this 👀


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