Before Wings by Beth Goobie

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Before Wings by Beth Goobie

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Goobie treads delicately through the difficult territory of illness and mortality in this mixture of kitchen sink drama and spirituality. The central character is immensely attractive and her first love affair is well done; heady and sweet. It's a metaphor for coming-of-age, full of magical realism.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 24 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0571233502

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Adrien is spending the summer working at a camp run by her Aunt Erin, a forbidding woman of few words. Adrien is recovering from a brain aneurysm that almost killed her. She's been warned that she may have another and it may kill her. There won't be a warning; just a blinding light before her lights go out for good. Adrien is not one of those people who become better through suffering. She's rude, truculent and withdrawn, so withdrawn that her loneliness emanates from her with a fierceness that few people try to break through. Her parents try, but meet with a steadfast rejection typical of adolescents and amplified by Adrien's depression. Aunt Erin doesn't seem inclined even to try.

Adrien is obsessed with the possibility of impending death, and when she meets Paul, a fellow camp worker a couple of years older than she, and discovers that he has been dreaming of his own death for some months, she feels an instant connection. When Paul tells her that she appears in those dreams, it's obvious to them both that Adrien has come to the camp for a reason. The five spirits that Adrien sees constantly hovering over the lake seem to agree...

Before Wings is many things. It's a kitchen-sink drama dealing with the difficulties of family and peer group relationships. It's a slightly spiritual fantasy thriller. It's a love story. But ultimately, it's a coming of age story. Adrien must learn to grow up, despite the threat of an aneurysm. And over the course of the book, she makes the transition from child to woman, eventually letting go of her fear. So the aneurysm is partly a cipher for adolescence. The love story is wonderful, tense, passionate and full of insecurity and tension. There's a scene in which Adrien and Paul have their first kiss which absolutely pulsates. I might be 40-something, but I don't mind admitting I read it several times before moving on.

The writing is perfect - straightforward when it needs to be and slightly eerie when it needs to be. As Adrien slips between the real world and the spiritual (or imagined, we're never quite sure) and Goobie's images resonate, the reader slips ever more into this ill young woman's world. Adrien herself is great. She's bolshy and impetuous, always flying off at the handle, but she has a clear idea of what's right and wrong and isn't afraid to stand up for herself and her principles.

I thought that the climax wrapped up a little too quickly and easily, but this is a minor nitpick. Before Wings treads the difficult territory of death and mortality with sureness and dexterity and knows her audience well. Recommended.

My thanks to the kind people at Faber for sending the book.

If they enjoyed Before Wings, they might also like Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, another coming of age metaphor, or Jenny Downham's tour de force Before I Die, which tells the story of terminally ill Tessa.

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Buy Before Wings by Beth Goobie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before Wings by Beth Goobie at


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