A stunningly written tale of an isolated girl and the shape-shifting boy who shows her what freedom could be–if only she has the courage to take it.
Controlled by her father and bound by desert, Frenenqer Paje’s life is tediously the same, until a small act of rebellion explodes her world and she meets a boy, but not just a boy–a Free person, a winged person, a shape-shifter. He has everything Frenenqer doesn’t. No family, no attachments, no rules. At night, he flies them to the far-flung places of their childhoods to retrace their pasts. But when the delicate balance of their friendship threatens to rupture into something more, Frenenqer must confront her isolation, her father, and her very sense of identity, breaking all the rules of her life to become free.
I find myself, for the first time ever perhaps, struggling to properly organize my reaction to a book. So I am going to jump right in and hope that you follow me.
The first aspect of this novel that bothered me is the title. The Girl with Borrowed Wings. Maybe it just me being too picky and finicky but I feel that there’s a “the” missing there; the absence of which makes the title sound awkward and feel uncomfortably incorrect. It is probably me. I am no grammar queen.
The novel itself is a hotchpotch of contradictions and conflicts. Frenenqer is not an easy character to like or empathize with. In fact, I am of the opinion that I dislike her somewhat intensely but more on that later. The novel starts with a profound assertion of the main character’s existence being a result of a thought. Hm. I immediately thought (with no little delight) “She’s a Tulpa!” No, she’s not. This is just Fernie’s way of being all melodramatic. Her father who is a tyrant throughout the novel simply decided he would have a daughter. Really, maybe it’s just me but the strict rules that Fernie announces with utmost gravity that she lives under does not seem to be as big of a deal as she makes it out to be. She is not beaten. I mean, it is sucky that her father seems to want to rule her to the last strand of hair on her head but he doesn’t hit her, he doesn’t lock her into her room and he doesn’t put bars outside her window which would have been a good idea to portray her father’s tyranny. I have friends whose parents are more paranoid and perhaps just as controlling as Fernie’s dad is shown to be. Now you are going to counter that physical beating isn’t the only way to abuse a child and of course I know that. I do. But there have to be consequences for rebellious behavior in abusive parent/child relationships and here, apart from a stern face and disappointed sighs, there aren’t any. So if Fernie doesn’t love her parents as she asserts, why do the sighs and faces make any difference to her?
Another thing that bothered me about this novel was the gradual cohesion of an ideal beauty. In this case, it would be what Fernie looks like. The first clue given was that Fernie couldn’t go outside without men staring at her with varying degrees of lust. She refused to go outside in fact because she couldn’t handle it. And then later with the appearance of Sangris, there was mention, once and again, of how Fernie was obviously much better in her stick thin self, with her budding breasts and long coltish legs than those plump (fat) girls with doughy hips and you know, curves, ugh. Right? And Fernie, as smart as she was purported to be, going to a multicultural school as she was, couldn’t discern for herself that people come in different shapes and there is no one standard size for beauty. To make Fernie beautiful, everyone else (the more common sort of beauty in that part of the world, I guess) becomes ugly. What I don’t understand is why more people don’t look different because according to the novel, the school is full of expat kids from all around the world.
The multiculturalism provides a nice segue for my next point. There is a point in the novel when dearest Fernie wonders why people celebrate their culture. They are having a heritage day at their school, see, and since Fernie is a global creature with no one culture to belong to, she dislikes the fact that people place importance on their own cultures. This she shows by her less than enthusiastic “representation” of Thai culture and language with emphasis being placed on how none of the items were really “Thai” and the entire thing was, in fact, an amalgamation of products from different countries etc. I wonder how a Thai reader would react to this particular portion of the novel, I really do. Because let me tell you, I was somewhat insulted that diversity, instead of being celebrated, was being knocked. She could have celebrated all of her identities, not picked any one and said she belonged to all. There were so many other ways that this could have gone but no. It didn’t.
Fernie treats her best friend like a secretary. No, seriously, she does. It is horrible. She asks her stuff like “what classes do I have today? What am I doing tomorrow?” And the best friend obliges. Oh, she addresses this and excuses herself as saying that she is pushing her best friend to see how far she can go before she breaks. And that’s all good and great but don’t expect me to like you any more than I did which wasn’t very much. Similarly, her relationship with the winged boy is strange. She is so mean and horrible to him and he keeps on returning to her. Why? I certainly do not see what is so great about her. I really don’t. There are certain limits a MC cannot cross because to do so makes her less than a main character and more a person I’d like to squash under my thumb. She goes and crosses that line. And no, I’m sorry, I do not buy the justification. A well rounded main character would see the adversity, realize it and still find beauty. Fernie loathes the desert and she lets us know it over and over and over again. There’s not one single redeeming quality about the place she lives.
The romance is contrived. The existence of the winged boy is not discussed in any depth and we do not know if the world in which Fernie exists has other creatures like him because the ease with which she accepts this guy/cat/whatever suggests there is but it is not mentioned explicitly. There are barely any other characters worth mentioning and Fernie does have flecks of a Mary Sue in her. A lot of flecks. So I have written almost a thousand words on this book and come to the conclusion that I didn’t really like it.
However, I hesitate to write it off completely because as unlikable as Frenenqer is, as unbelievable and illogical the story is, it is still something different. The monsters in this novel all exist inside and it is an internal battle that colours liberty a different shade. So I would advise you to check this out yourself and make up your own mind. You may end up liking this more than I did and well, Sangris was the one redeeming point of the novel. I wish he had fallen in love with the best friend instead.