‘Wing Jones’ by Katherine Webber

/5 stars

Published by Walker Books!

Set in Atlanta in the 90s, Wing Jones struggles to place herself in a world that won’t accept her and her split heritage. With her Granny Dee coming from Ghana and LaoLao, her mum’s mum, from China, Wing doesn’t look like everyone else. Not to mention a large part of her identity is also taken up being Marcus, star American Football player at their school’s little sister. Which also doesn’t exactly bode well for the fact she’s a little bit head over heels infatuated with his childhood best friend, Aaron. Aaron who’s sort of always been there — there there and there invading her heart. But then something tragic happens and what was already so fragile in Wing’s life completely crumbles. And so she does the only thing her body and her lioness and her dragon can. They run.

Usually when there’s a lot of hype around a book or a series, whether already released or on the cusp of being published, I’m pretty sold and ready to invest the pounds to get my mitts on it as soon as it’s out. For some reason, with ‘Wing Jones’, that wasn’t the case. I was apprehensive. Maybe even a little scared. Perhaps because there was a lot of excitement around it, a lot of excitement yet I didn’t really explicitly know what it was about? Or maybe it was something as silly as the fact the front cover has a (pretty flippin’ beautiful) running shoe on the front and I am probably one of the least sporty/active people in the history of the universe. Ever. And I kinda, maybe didn’t want to feel even more like a slob than I already do. Fickle, but true. However, the Twitterverse was pretty insistent that this book was amazing and that I needed it in my life (especially with those purple to pink gradient sprayed edges, which, by the way… Oh my god!). And, let it be known, my fellow book community have not let me down, because Wing Jones and her feather soft giggles have tickled right up against my heart.

Firstly lets talk about what a fabulous ensemble of characters there are in ‘Wing Jones’ that allow the themes of the book to be more widely explored and just completely shine through. Monica, Marcus’ girlfriend, offered not only insight into mixed race relationships and attitudes towards them in the southern states of the US in the 1990s, but also gleaned over the idea that relationships are not as perfect as our young, naive selves might initially assume (like Wing). There is jealousy and cheating, miscommunication — a lesson there that putting anything as fragile as love on a pedestal is a recipe for… not disaster, but at the least a huge slap in the face. Monica, along with Aaron, also portrayed another side to grief being so close knit to the Jones family and how the dynamics of those relationships change, whether for better or worse, when tragedy strikes.

And that’s one of the most golden parts about ‘Wing Jones’. How closely orientated it is around family bonds, something I couldn’t possibly mention without talking about Granny Dee and LaoLao. They were, of course, complete favourites of mine. Their snapping and bickering, constantly trying to out do one another offered corners of relief in the pages riddled with uncertainty and loss. Not only that, but they felt so warm. You could almost feel their grandmotherly touch as you held the book in your hands. A particular highlight of mine was near the beginning where, in a moment of turmoil, LaoLao runs a hot bath for Marcus and Aaron, plonks them in whilst she holds Wing close to her. Because she can’t possibly make them feel safe and hug them all at the same time, so the warm water has to function as that comforting embrace right when they needed it.

Girl power also felt like it was in an abundance in ‘Wing Jones’. Not only in Wing’s discovery that she’s a pretty kickass, record breaking runner, but through Monica who stands by her boyfriend and her relationship through both their shared troubles and Marcus’ own troubles. Even more importantly, Eliza. Eliza runs on the track team at their school and Wing has always kind of admired her from afar. What I love, love, loved about Eliza is that, when she discovers Wing is an incredible runner, she doesn’t consider Wing competition or a threat. She completely and utterly embraces and supports Wing’s talents and wants her to do well. Representation of female friendships are oh so important and needed in books — the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I was particularly over the moon to see two girls loving and supporting one another, rather than tearing one another down out of jealousy. (Eliza’s relationship with Annie was also so lovely and an important addition — side story, please?)

And then there was Aaron. Oh boy. No seriously, oh boy! I love me a slow burn, but I think maybe Katherine Webber may have one bettered it by having that ‘slowly but surely’ nature of them coming together but… romance also not taking precedence over the rest of the story. Because this is about Wing and no amount of butterfly inducing kissing and ridiculously adorable drunken confessions (ah!) could take centre stage over Wing’s individual development. I will say, though, that I’m very much okay with that original 6,000 word kissing scene being shared with us one day, because I’m definitely an avid shipper of Wing and Aaron now. Favourite things involving Aaron: Training in the early AMs together, beach kisses and Aaron taking a step back when Wing needed to focus.

Finally, Wing. I don’t really know how to properly convey how much I loved reading about Wing as she grew into her running shoes. At the beginning of the book, she is barely a shell of a person. She lives in her brother’s shadow and is torn to pieces by constant bullying from Heather Parker. But, when tragedy comes down on the Jones family, Wing steps up to the plate and becomes a passionate, driven young woman. She fights back against all that she’s endured by being successful and rising above the incessant and unmerited prejudice. Not only against her enemies, but against her brother. In fact, one of my favourite scenes in ‘Wing Jones’ was her standing up to Marcus and his selfish wallowing. Because Wing had taken so much and it only got worse after the actions of her brother and I knew Wing needed to have it out with him, so for this scene to be included was truly a pivotal moment in her character arc.

I’ve rambled on for a fair bit (sorry, not sorry because ‘Wing Jones’ is AMAZING), but I have to mention Katherine Webber’s writing. As an aspiring writer myself, who has loved to experiment with different styles, tenses and voices, it was a real pleasure to read something so whimsically and lyrically written. Of course, a lot of books I get to read are well written and lovely in their own right, but the style of writing Katherine adopted for ‘Wing Jones’ (and hopefully all future books, eek!) is the kind of flowery imagery I am a complete and utter sucker for. I love long winding sentences with pretty similes and just, like, when reading a passage, you can almost physically feel yourself flying over each word with every swoop and flurry. Ugh. I can’t explain it. It’s magic when it happens and it makes me want to read about Wing all over again. Right now, immediately.

‘Wing Jones’ is a lot about running, but it’s also a hell of a lot more about Wing. It’s about prejudice and it’s about wrestling against the labels that have you by the throat; it’s about dealing with irrevocable cases of grief and coming out the other side broken but stronger than ever. It’s about finding yourself, working out where you fit in a world that didn’t even think to consider you. ‘Wing Jones’ is powerful and beautiful, and it’ll probably stick with you a while after. Hell, it might even make you want to run.

Favourite lines:

“The night air tastes like starlight. I haven’t had a drop to drink and don’t know what being drunk feels like, but right now I swear I’m tipsy.”

“What do you want?” he asks, looking up at me, and it’s like there’s a little thread inside me that I didn’t know was there, and he has the other end, and I don’t know how that happened, and it is fragile and thin, but when he tugs, I feel it, and I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell him what I want, that he should already know.”

“That line from Romeo and Juliet, the one about the lips being palms, and palms kissing, flits through my mind. Then he squeezes my hand, and if the first touch sent shooting stars, this is a whole meteor shower, racing up my veins from my palm straight to my heart.”

Currently listening to #2

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