This month we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month at book club. We choose a book from a representative #ownvoices author, The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie
From the Back Flap:
On one side, we have The Palomas, a family of world-famous mermaids, who trained near our home town at Weeki Wachee. They perform underwater spectacles and wonders.
Then there are the Corbeaus. They are a family of winged tree-climbers (who are absolutely NOT vampires) who perform dances in the highest of tree limbs.
These two traveling caravans take disparate paths that converge annually in the same town to put on their fierce carnival displays of wonders for the people of this town.
But the competition isn’t just for ticket sales. A series of unfortunate historical events has created a lethal level of strife between these families. With the history between these two families clouded in emotions and dating back generations, what happens when Almendro isn’t big enough for these two opposing families to operate for two weeks?
Why?: We chose this book for Hispanic Heritage Month for several reasons. First and foremost, as a Cuban-American, I wanted to feature an #ownvoices Latinx author this month for book club discussion. When perusing YA books that qualified, I kept coming back to multiple Morris Award nominee, Anna-Marie McLemore. It seemed poetic to catch up on her first book in the same month as her second was published.
Overall: The Weight of Feathers is re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet set inside a magical snow globe of a circus world surrounded by a unwelcoming town.
Having grown up in the most superstitious of Cuban immigrant households, The Weight of Feathers’ descriptions of the interactions of the Palomas and Corbeaus felt very authentic to me. From their magical performances to their practical day-to-day discourse accepting the magic that bleeds into everyday, they were relatable to people I knew growing up. The Palomas are forbidden from touching the Corbeaus or THEY WILL BE CURSED. This is Bible and not questioned. The fear that Lace experiences when she is touched by a Courbeau is something so palpable that I feared for her safety when she met Cluck. I was so compelled by these characters, their motivations and the consequences of their actions, that I found myself anxious over how Lace’s grandmother would react to the change in her circumstances.
However, even though family is everything, especially when living and working together, I also found myself rooting for both Lace & Cluck to keep their distance from family. The destructive behaviors of both were so evident, I wanted them to escape from their toxic environment. While Lace struggled to be part of her family in a way that they saw fit, there was always her grandmother judging and making the ultimate calls of who was in and who was out. The same can be said of Cluck and his relationship to his mother Nicole. The terror that keeps the family together could also drive it apart. Having been raised by a clan of overbearing Cuban women, this point touched me as something I really struggled with in my teen years. The tension created by these relationships gripped me until the very end.
Another concept that was both personally touching and that I really enjoyed in this book was the strong female characters. In my family, there was this sneaky form of feminism that revolved around a traditionally patriarchal society. But in The Weight of Feathers, there was unquestioned matriarchy through-and-through. For better or worse, these women ruled and their families followed. Even with questionable actions and intentions, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these powerful women in action.
Finally, there is Lace and Cluck, the second generation to inherit the consequences of the Big Accident. While both their families want to remain within the confines of their existence, these two look towards the future for hope and life beyond their particular circumstances. To me, this is at the root of what makes this book so very YA and such a necessary read for teens.
Judge a Book by its Cover: There is a stark beauty to this cover that I adore. Not only does it give a nod towards the families performance skills, but it hints at something two people coming together.
Me Talk Pretty: McLemore is a once-on-a-lifetime writer. Her prose explores themes, dialogues and characters with such tenacity, I dare to call her abilities magical. She is a master as magical realism blending both the reality and dreams with such expertise that you’re never sure where you’ve crossed the line. She’s written extensively about magical realism in Latin cultures and I urge you to explore her bibliography.
Audiobook Narration: I am going to be honest and say that I didn’t even know an audiobook was available until I researched this review. There is a reader for Cluck (Kirby Heyborne) and for Lace (Cynthia Farrell), which I really dig.
Body Count: Ummmm…
He Said/She Said: This book is written in alternating points of view, with Lace and Cluck as narrators. It’s interesting to me that especially in the beginning of the novel when they don’t interact much, they are essentially saying the same things about each other’s families. They are bookends, indoctrinated in and holding similar ideologies, but committed mortal enemies. However, each of their experiences with pain and cruelty at the hands of their families that simultaneously pushes them away from all that they’ve learned. This push/pull creates a tension in the pit of your stomach as a reader and it sets you up to root for them.
Don’t Believe the Hype: Anna-Marie is a force. She began with The Weight of Feathers, but her next book, When the Moon was Ours is bursting with gorgeous language and a story that begins with a stunning dedication and ends with an afterward so personal that I had tears in my eyes.
Happy #bookbirthday to #annamariemclemore and #whenthemoonwasours! . . Elements of magical realism and fairy tale storytelling combine to create this achingly lush queer love story. Miel and Sam are outsiders in a small town. Sam is a boy who paints and hangs moons in the town trees and Miel is a girl that fell out of a water tower a decade ago. Townspeople keep strangers and people considered strange at arm's length, but Miel and Sam have managed to have each other for 10 years. They keep each other safe and their biggest secrets safer, like the fact that Sam is a transgender boy. . . When Miel is targeted by the Bonner girls for the roses that grow from her wrist, they threaten all that she holds true and the secrets closest to her heart. What Miel doesn't count on is that her secrets are deeper than the river and the Bonner's cruel relentless detente may have no end if she stays complicit in their demands. A town of old secrets, brujeria, witches and glass pumpkins lend an unforgettable backdrop to this character study of friendship, love and family. . . What makes this book so memorable is McLemore's gorgeous epic prose and the delicate touch she applies to a queer girl in love with a transgender boy. Each sentence is a gift and the dialogue between characters can be so achingly real. Covering themes of racism, diversity, LGBTQ and YA issues, this book will be on everyone's year end list, including mine. . . "The world they had cast between them was both brighter and softer than everything else, cast in deep blues and golds."
Open tab/Last call: It’s rare I find elements of my childhood reflected back to me in a book, and even though I was not raised in a circus family, this book beautifully captured the magic that is being raised in a Latin household. I’ll raise una copita to you, Anna, and hope to discuss mermaids and Wild Beauty with you.
And then we’ll dance…
If you’re looking to discover other books to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, here are a few suggestions:
And don’t forget to check out Anna-Marie’s latest When the Moon Was Ours
Don’t miss the first installment of “Why Haven’t You Read?”