I’m currently reading All the Light We Cannot See, the now-famous book about two young people in Europe during World War II. Writer Anthony Boerr has already mastered the art of taking me there. I remarked to my mother over the top of the book: “That must have been a terrifying time to be alive.”
I knew the subject matter of the book and so I’ve avoided reading it and others like it until I just surrendered to the peer pressure of a fellow writer who cited the beautiful language. Every sentence is a masterpiece, she said. And yes, she was right.
All these books about World War II, and still there are so many stories to tell. The Book Thief. City of Thieves. Atonement. Tale after tale of human triumph and great, resounding evil.
Another one came to me in a PR pitch and I almost clicked away – war-torn, Lithuania, generations, etc. – when this descriptor caught my eye: “In 1973, Prudence was born with a pair of wings molded to her back.”
And so of course, I read it.
Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone is told from the perspective of present-day Prudence, a mid-30’s ornithologist, and 1980’s Prudence, a restless teen. Indeed, she was born with wings. Instead of full-blown magical realism, the story is explained – her parents authorize the wings’ amputation and consider them a birth defect. She doesn’t learn until her teens that women in her family, generations ago, had wings as well. Instead, she feels ghost-wings at her back throughout her entire life.
Woven through the novel is also the story of the The Old Man, Prudence’s paternal grandfather, the World War II survivor. In present day, he is dying. In the novel, we learn about his life and how it intersects with Prudence’s, finally, and how he helps her reclaim her heritage.
The language here is beautiful too, evoking salty marshes and the feeling of the ocean in the air, Prudence’s maternal instincts applied to tiny baby birds instead of humans, their kindred spirits wanting to fly instead of remaining here, wherever here is. Even the title is dreamy, borrowed lyrics from a John Lennon song. Within its pages, another idea that also interested the songwriter:
Climb on and off the Ferris wheel. Pay the carny to leave me up top staring at the horizon. Let the sun set…We’re going round and round, and on our way down, the stomach drops, and on our way up, the heart leaps. This is the best place to be.
I gobbled this book up. I took it on a press trip with me, when I had several pockets of alone time and a set of flights. I like to parcel out my reading to make it last through my travels, but I finished Above Us Only Sky, the hardcover version, at the gate in San Jose, even though I knew I would have to travel with it (Real books! So big! So heavy!) in my backpack. That was okay, though. It nestled inside like a friend, up against my computer, reminding me that I had read this story and met these characters, and that someday soon I would get to tell you about it.
Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone
$13.10 on Amazon