I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Thomas Dunne on September 15 2015
Genres: Young adult, Fantasy
Format: Finished hardcover
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The nitty-gritty: A poignant and magical tale of feuding families and forbidden love, perfectly written.
Embers clung to the edges, dense as a band of stars. The fabric burned and thinned. It glowed translucent, and then crumbled to ash. The thin wood of the porcelain vines released the scent of their blue berries, and the lemon of the rampant wild roses turned to rind oil and pith.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m a HUGE Alice Hoffman fan, and so I was thrilled to discover that debut author Anna-Marie McLemore’s book has many of the same qualities of Hoffman’s that I adore. Not only is her writing simply stunning—right out of the gate for a debut author no less—but her story gave me all sorts of feels, including the wide-eyed sense of wonder that I always get from reading Alice Hoffman. Her story is accessible to both teens and adults, thankfully for us adult readers. I sometimes have issues when YA books feel too “young” or clichéd, or contain the dreaded insta-love, so I’m happy to report that The Weight of Feathers has none of these. McLemore’s themes of family loyalty and teens trying to break away from old family traditions were things that readers of all ages can easily relate to.
The story seems simple at first, and yet it’s actually quite complex once you start reading. The set-up has a very strong Romeo and Juliet vibe: two feuding families, the Palomas and the Corbeaus, are both performing families, traveling from town to town with their unusual acts. But a long ago tragedy has made the two families mortal enemies, and now they avoid each other like the plague, even when they happen to end up in the same town together.
Lace Paloma has been taught all her life to never let a Corbeau touch her, or she’ll bring tragedy to her family. But in the small town of Almendro, Lace is injured during a terrible factory accident, and a boy named Cluck Corbeau saves her life. Lace finds herself swept into the mysterious world of the Corbeau family, but as she and Cluck get to know each other, Lace dreads the day that Cluck finds out who she really is: a member of the hated Paloma family. Lace and Cluck must make a choice between true love and family—not an easy choice to make.
Although I’m describing this story as fantasy and magic realism, those elements are kept mostly in the background, so if you’re looking for a fantasy-heavy story, you might want to look elsewhere. One of my favorite things about this book (and there are so many!) was the subtlety of the magic, and the sense that it might just be a dream. The Paloma women are all born with a scattering of translucent scales on their bodies, much like a mermaid. Their traveling act is to perform as mermaids and wear sparkling tales while swimming in the lake, dazzling the locals with their ethereal choreography and posing for photos after the show.
They all wore tails bright as tissue paper flowers. Butter yellow. Aqua and teal. The orange of cherry brandy roses. The flick of their fins looked like hard candy skipping across the lake.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Corbeaus have black feathers growing from their heads, although they keep them covered in public. Their act is to strap on hand-made wings and walk in the branches of the tallest trees they can find, using their wings to keep them from falling:
They climbed the boughs like cats, moving as though the high branches were wide and solid. The hung lights showed the contours of the men’s bodies, and made the women’s dresses look like mint and peach milk.
(I have no idea what “mint and peach milk” is, but McLemore makes me want to drink it!)
The story is set in modern-day America, but the author gives her readers a wonderful variety of diverse characters, so I felt as if it could have been anywhere. The Palomas are Spanish, and the Corbeaus are French Romani, and so their speech is full of foreign words and phrases that made me feel as if I were right there in the middle of things.
Family ties and traditions are of utmost important to both families, and this underlying theme was one of the things that made this book so special. There were so many relationships that I loved, and I don’t have time to talk about all of them, but I will say my favorite was the relationship between Cluck and his grandfather (who he calls Pépère). Pépère is the one person in Cluck’s life who makes him feel safe, and he loves him so much that he even dresses like him. But there is dark side to Cluck’s life as a Corbeau, in the form of his older brother Dax. Dax uses Cluck as a punching bag, for many reasons, but mostly because Cluck is different from the other Corbeaus: he has streaks of red running through the black feathers on his head. Both families are hiding secrets that come to light by the end of the story, secrets that could destroy the bond that is developing between Lace and Cluck, and I was on the edge of my seat until the very end. I certainly didn’t predict the ending of the story, but it was absolutely perfect, in my opinion.
And because this story has shades of Romeo and Juliet, there is, of course, a romance between Lace and Cluck. But it was the slow-burn sort of romance, where you can see and feel their inevitable slide together, but it happens at the just the right pace. Cluck is just the slightest bit sarcastic and arrogant when he meets Lace, and I loved how human that made him.
Lush and descriptive, magical and dreamlike, The Weight of Feathers will transport you to a place you’ve never been, make you feel things for people you’ve never met, and leave you wanting more. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.