I received this book for free from Netgalley 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 Published by Thomas Dunne on September 15, 2015
Genres: Classic Retelling, YA, Magical Realism
For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.
Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.
Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.
So let’s talk about this book. First off, it’s awesome because it’s a retelling of the ever-so-famous Romeo and Juliet. And if you know me, you’d know that I’m all about the retellings. They’re fun and shed new light and perspective on timeless and classic stories. I actually did my TTT post this past Tuesday on Classic Retellings…so you should check that out if you haven’t already.
But one of my biggest pet peeves with retellings is when the story is almost exactly the same. And this was not the case with The Weight of Feathers. WoF brings in the classic rivalry between two families that Romeo and Juliet is famous for. Misunderstandings and a family rivalry that has lasted generations. Because of these elements, WoF is clearly a Romeo and Juliet retelling. But after this, it’s really its own and utterly unique thing. It’s beautiful and enchanting and I just really did enjoy it. So let’s talk about it.
The story is of two families, the Corbeaus and the Palomas–utter rivals. They are both performing families. The Corbeaus do this cool tightrope walking routine with wings and trees and danger. The Palomas have “mermaid” shows, which sounds lame but is really cool. They have tails and hold their breath underwater for ridiculous amounts of time while they swim around. And little girls wave at them and treat them as their idols, which is just adorable. And both of their acts don’t sound nearly as cool when I just described them…but trust me, they’re beautiful and so visual I want to see a movie adaptation just to see their performances. So the concept is really cool, I think. “Cool” is such an ugly word to describe it, but it’s what I’m going to use. The story focuses on Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau, the two that don’t really fit into their family paradigms…and they find each other.
[Sidenote: I apologize now for any rambling or incoherency. It’s late and I’m tired but I just finished this book and want to express myself.]
Moving on from the plot, the genre is pretty interesting to me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. It’s fantasy…but it’s not? From how I just described it, the families seem normal, yes? Perhaps a little eccentric, but normal nonetheless. This isn’t really the case. You see, the Corbeaus grow small feathers in their hair, and the Palomas have small birthmark-like iridescent scales. And there are definitely some small elements of magic, sometimes so small you’d miss it if you blinked. And, while reading, I didn’t really know what to make of this. The genre kind of confused me because I went in thinking fantasy and what I was reading was like no fantasy I had ever read before. It wasn’t until I looked at how Goodreads classifies it and I saw the term “Magical Realism” that I started to understand. I liked that term for how simple it was yet how distinctly it described the book. And I like that because it’ll appeal to a wider range of readers–from fantasy-enthusiasts to fantasy-newbies.
Along with the subtle magic hidden throughout the plot, there’s a subtle magic to McLemore’s writing. The prose is almost poetic, but it’s not throw-in-your-face, LOOK-HOW-POETIC-AND-LYRICAL-MY-WRITING-IS poetic. It’s natural and subtle and simple and whimsical and just beautiful. Let’s take a gander at some examples:
- “She had taught Lace to…love dry lightning as much as candles in glass jars. ‘Because for one second, all that light, you see everything. Maybe you don’t know what you’ve seen, but you’ve seen it, and it goes with you.'”
- “Lace held the truth cupped tight in her palms. It fought and fluttered like a moth, but she would not part her fingers enough to let it out.”
- “Lucky was the word this town pinned to its shirt collar, a good-luck charm.”
- “Cluck knew what Lace meant, that they weren’t so different, that the space between them was made only of names and colors.”
So you see, the writing is beautiful, yet light…like feathers…like the weight of feathers (*elbow nudge* get it?).
The relationship between Cluck and Lace is very real. It wasn’t insta-love and it wasn’t incredibly slow. It was a whirlwind romance that felt real and substantial. Kind of like Romeo and Juliet but without the “I saw her and fell in love and couldn’t think about anything else to the point that I’m going to end up killing myself” kind of love. They weren’t perfect characters. They were flawed…but those are the best kind of characters, right? They found love despite the flaws, despite their family histories and feuding.
One thing that did bother me was the lack of culture. So the Corbeaus are French and Romani. And the Palomas are Hispanic. So they speak a lot of Spanglish and Franglish (is that a thing?). When they’re speaking, random sentences will be thrown in in their native languages…which is a cool thing. I appreciate languages. I’ve taken six years of Spanish in my life, I like it. But, in this story, the random bits of language were the only thing I saw from their cultures. There was really nothing else. If their heritages were such an important factor, then I would have liked to see more of them.
Okay, and spoiler moment: View Spoiler »Cluck turns out to actually be the secret child of Lace’s great-aunt…who throughout the book is called Tia Lora (Aunt Lora)…so I definitely forgot that she was her great-aunt. And I thought that Cluck was actually Lace’s first cousin for a gross minute. But don’t worry, it’s cleared up. They’re not blood-related…but still related, so that’s still kind of sketchy. Anyways, moving on. « Hide Spoiler
So, overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a unique and fresh retelling of Romeo and Juliet. It has lightly magical and fantastical undertones that were refreshing and enchanting to me as a reader. I say, read it!