Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone

Title: Above Us Only Sky
Author: Michele Young-Stone
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (March 3, 2015)
ISBN: 9781451657678
Pages: 256 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: fiction, fantasy, historical fiction
My Rating: 2.5 cups 


From the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, which Library Journal called, “ripe for Oprah or fans of Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler,” comes a magical novel about a family of women separated by oceans, generations, and war, but connected by something much greater—the gift of wings.

On March 29, 1973, Prudence Eleanor Vilkas was born with a pair of wings molded to her back. Considered a birth defect, her wings were surgically removed, leaving only the ghost of them behind.

At fifteen years old, confused and unmoored, Prudence meets her long-estranged Lithuanian grandfather and discovers a miraculous lineage beating and pulsing with past Lithuanian bird-women, storytellers with wings dragging the dirt, survivors perched on radio towers, lovers lit up like fireworks, and heroes disguised as everyday men and women. Prudence sets forth on a quest to discover her ancestors, to grapple with wings that only one other person can see, and ultimately, to find out where she belongs.

Above Us Only Sky spans the 1863 January Uprising against Russian Tsarist rule in Eastern Europe to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Lithuania gaining its independence in 1991. It is a story of mutual understanding between the old and young; it is a love story; a story of survival, and most importantly a story about where we belong in the world. This “is a raw, beautiful, unforgettable book” (Lydia Netzer, bestselling author of Shine, Shine, Shine).

My Thoughts:

In an effort to catch up on my reviews, I’m going to keep this fairly brief. I didn’t love this book. I didn’t hate it either, but I must admit it turned out to be quite different from what I expected. On reading the description of “a family of women connected by the gift of wings” I presumed this to be a rather magical or paranormal tale, but it isn’t particularly. While the wings are certainly a part of the story and there are some hints at magical elements, these aspects almost feel extraneous – tacked on and, for the most part, unnecessary. At its heart, this is a story about family more than anything else, and the familial link between these women seems more than enough to carry the tale across generations without the added detail of wings.

The wings do bring about the introduction of some interesting side characters, but therein lies another issue I had with this novel. It isn’t a terribly long book, but it is told from many different viewpoints and perspectives. There are just so many characters and facets here that it becomes frustrating to follow. We barely get comfortable with one story and POV before it switches to the next. The writing is also somewhat disjointed, jumping backward and forward between time periods, sometimes abruptly and in the middle of a section, causing reader confusion. More than once I was forced to backtrack or reread in order to determine where I was in the overall timeline of the narrative, or to clarify a particular character.

Despite these issues, there are some appealing themes explored here – family ties, love of country, the search for belonging, love and loss, regret and resilience – and the history of Lithuania, particularly the wartime perspective, is interesting and well-conveyed. I found the sections chronicling the history of the Old Man, Ingeburg, and Daina the most compelling but was engaged enough overall to keep reading to the end. The novel as a whole felt jumbled, however, and was not as cohesive as I would have liked, leaving me disappointed. I do love the cover though - I only wish I would have loved the book just as much!

“Life speeds by until forty-eight years seems like one bar in a song, like one scene in one act in one opera. Like one stroke of paint on the Mona Lisa.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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