Topic #15: Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+
Book: The Weight of Feathers, by Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
“Fighting was the only safe way to touch a Paloma…The rage made it true and good. The anger and honor of defending this family shielded them like a saint’s prayer. Hitting and kicking were safe. Anything else could bring sickness.”
The Paloma and Corbeau families both live a life without roots, traveling from town to town as performers. The Palomas and Corbeau would never willingly make contact with one another, but there is one stop every year that both families make simultaneously: the town of Almendro, the site of a disaster that turned the families against each other in the first place. Lace Paloma and Lucien “Cluck” Corbeau are only teenagers, young enough that they weren’t even born when the flood came, but they’ve inherited the rivalry of their predecessors. Under ordinary circumstances they never would have met, but in the panic following an industrial accident, Cluck saves Lace’s life and Lace is driven by superstition to repay her debt to him, even if she needs to hide her real identity to do it.
Thematically and structurally, The Weight of Feathers revolves around the parity between the two families. There is one protagonist from each, with their respective viewpoints taking up about half of the book. Each one is supported by a cast of characters from their respective family. For the first fifty pages, when Cluck and Lace haven’t properly met yet, they live parallel lives, each one surrounded by suspicion of the rival family, and each one unsatisfied with their position within their own family. Even the shows the families put on are horizontal reflections of each other: the Palomas don mermaid tails and swim amidst the trunks of sunken trees, just close enough to the surface for the audience to see them, while the Corbeau put on imitation wings and leap among high-up branches, emulating flight for the audience down below. All the parallels between the two imbue the book with an instinctive pleasure, the joy of seeing something and then seeing it reflected, as though in a mirror.
After a protracted opening hundred pages, the story begins properly when Lace starts working backstage for the Corbeau under an assumed surname and her friendship with Cluck is allowed to grow. Even as they become closer and Lace starts to want more from Cluck than a simple friendship, she knows her family ties and the lies she told to conceal them threaten to cut it all short if she is discovered. Although Cluck is in the dark about Lace’s identity, he has problems of his own, including a forbidding mother and a physically abusive brother who take a dim view of him getting friendly with Lace, and the worsening health of his grandfather, the only relative he feels truly close to. Both Cluck and Lace are troubled, both are scarred by traumas of the past, physically and emotionally, but their similarities hardly seem to promise a happy ending. Can the force that draws them together really pull stronger than the force that invisibly pulls them apart?
McLemore’s prose is pleasant, if somewhat inconsistent. The dialogue is often clever and precise, expressive enough that it doesn’t need accompanying description, but McLemore sometimes provides that description anyway, and the redundancy of it can diminish the simple joy of the reading itself. She has an inclination toward synesthetic metaphors, such as “the sense of falling did not touch her,” but the surreal tone she achieves with them isn’t worth their habitual clumsiness. The worst of these are so overwrought they actively distract from the point they were written to make.
As I alluded before, The Weight of Feathers has a slow start, but it compensates with characters that feel worth rooting for and a setting that dances dreamlike on the edge of plausibility. McLemore has invented a world of sadness with beauty hidden inside, and Lace and Cluck’s quest to find that beauty, whether together or apart, is effective in its own right. It’s true that at times, it becomes slightly predictable, but that’s partly because it has such a clear idea of what sort of book it’s supposed to be.
Final Grade: B –