Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (proof) - Jandy Nelson meets Friday Night Lights: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing's speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants. From Goodreads.
As someone who is pretty active in the UKYA community, Katherine Webber's debut novel Wing Jones is a book we've been anticipating. Although I don't know Webber personally, she is considered one of our own, which made me a little nervous about starting Wing Jones; what if I didn't like it? And now I've read it, I feel awful at having to say that Wing Jones isn't my cup of tea.
That's not to say that Wing Jones is a bad story, because it's not - there is a lot that is great about this story. I don't have any major criticisms, it's just that I have no interest in athletics or sport of any kind, and running becomes quite a big thing for Wing. It's more than I am the wrong audience for this book than that it's not very good.
But as I said, there's a lot about Wing Jones to praise. Wing has a very close, tight-knit family. She lives with her mum, her two grandmothers, and her older brother, Marcus, who she hero worships. Marcus is a good guy, he's popular and well liked, and protective of his sister, and they both really get on. But then he makes the terrible decision to drive when drunk after a party - there's a car crash, there are fatalities, and Marcus ends up in a coma. Wing's life is turned completely upside down; Marcus makes one atrocious choice, to drive his car despite being pretty drunk, and the consequences are far reaching and effect so many people.
Wing never really fitted in at school, anyway. She is biracial, half-Chinese, and half American-Ghanaian, and where the mix of genes in her brother meant he was very good looking, Wing feels the mix didn't quite work with her. Wing is pretty tall, where her mother is short; she has father's dark skin, but her mother's eyes, she has uncontrollable curly hair that even her Ghanaian grandmother, Granny Dee, doesn't know how to tame. She's used to the looks as people try and work out "what" she is. She's bullied at school, called a freak for how she looks, and has no friends. But she gets treated so much worse after the car crash, when everyone turns on Marcus. Marcus isn't at school, though, he's in hospital with a coma. Wing is at school, so they take their grief, anger and hatred out on her.
Her only solace is discovering running. She's been having trouble sleeping, and one night decides to go out and get some air. She finds herself at the school's race track, and just starts running, and is amazed at how good it feels, how freeing. And not only does it feel good, but she's fast. Her brother was the golden boy, the one who was the star of the school's football team, who had a football scholarship and dreams of becoming pro. He's the athlete, not her. But now she can't stop running. With every step she feels she's keeping Marcus' heart beating, and the faster she runs, the sooner he'll wake up.
There's a time when there's nothing much that happens except Wing going out to run every night. All the while, Marcus isn't waking up, the hospital bills are piling up, and the insurance won't cover everything. Then there's the lawyer Marcus' needs, because once he wakes up - if he wakes up - he will be charged, and the lawyer needs paying. Wing's mother is getting stressed, as are her grandmothers. Loans are taken out, her elderly Chinese grandmother, LaoLao, goes back to work at her daughter's restaurant to help in the kitchens, to try and earn the family more money. There's stress and worry coming from every direction, and running is Wing's only solace, her only escape. I'm not going to go into what happens, because of spoilers, but there is more to this story.
I loved how close the whole family was, and I especially loved LaoLao and Granny Dee. They provide some of the lighter, amusing moments of the book, as the two will not stop bickering - until the accident, when it happens less often. But they argue over the smallest of things, criticising anything. It's like a hobby of theirs, always fighting, always trying to one-up each other. But when it really comes down to it, they are family, and these two older ladies who are always fighting will be there for the other when needed. They're friends who really care for each other, underneath it all. And I loved this multiracial family! All the little details; the food that was cooked, the games that were played, LaoLao's slightly broken English. It was just wonderful!
There was an element to the story that I didn't really get. Wing had a lioness and a dragon that would visit her. They just appear, and are a source of support and encouragement. For a long time, I wondered if it was going to turn out that Wing had a mental illness because she was having hallucinations, or if it was going to be a magical realism element. It turned out to be magical realism. But I just didn't really get it. I understood that they were either representations of the two sides of her heritage, or symbolic of her grandmothers - the lioness for Ghana, the dragon for China - but I didn't really understand the point of them. They weren't a huge element of the story, they weren't about that often, and the story would have worked without them. Ok, they guided Wing to the track in the first place, and they made her run after them, but I think she would have ended up running even if they weren't there. I just didn't understand the point of them, especially when the book was already covering the two sides of her heritage and self-identity and race. They just left me a little confused.
Over all, Wing Jones is pretty good; it's diverse, it's an interesting storyline, and it's great to see a book where a girl gets into sport as there aren't that many - it just wasn't a story for me. Many people have raved about Wing Jones, so give a few other reviews a read. You might find this is right up your street.
Thank you to Walker Books for the proof.
Published: 5th January 2017
Publisher: Walker Books
Katherine Webber's Website