________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012


The Girl With Borrowed Wings.

Rinsai Rossetti.
New York, NY: Dial Books (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2012.
290 pp., hardcover, $19.00.
ISBN 978-0-8037-3566-8.

Subject Headings:

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Kalina Lafreniere.

**** /4



The sky was overcast, hot clouds lowering on me, so night came more quickly than usual. I had barely five minutes at the edge of the wadi before I had to return home. I walked back along the bare street, catching raindrops on my fingertips, and, without warning, a long slow ache for Sangris, which would continue straight through the night up until morning, swept from my feet to my head. I didn’t need him or his wings in order to enjoy this sudden, rare, rain, but I wanted him to be there anyway. That night my dreams were dark and wavering, and I kept awakening to feel the pain of the wave passing through me, before sinking back to sleep.

In the morning, I looked at myself in the mirror matter-of-factly. Almond-shaped black eyes looked back at me from a gold-brown face. From my face alone, a Westerner would have called me Eastern, and Easterner would have called me Western. Wherever I went, I always looked like a foreigner, a stranger from across the seas. Some of the ambiguity of that hung in my sheets of black hair, straight enough to be Japanese; my eyes were slanted enough to be Thai, but wide enough to be Scottish; the long lashes of India, the wide forehead of Italy; the facial structure that kept high cheekbones and long eyes, but also a nose that curled slightly up at the tip. It was all so mixed together that nobody who didn’t already know my background would have been able to place me. I’d always thought that it made me look slightly inhuman, as if I didn’t belong anywhere at all, as if I could be an elf who simply had taken the wrong turn somewhere.

Frenenqer Paje lives in the stifling heat in a Middle Eastern desert with her parents, but she has no real home or roots. The family has lived all over the world, never staying in one place for very long. Without friends or connections to anyone or any place, Frenenqer lives an isolated existence and has closed herself off to others; she spends endless hours in her bedroom reading novels. When not in her room, Frenenqer attends a conservative high school that doesn’t like boys and girls intermingling. She can’t even walk down the street because of the strict rules of the culture she’s living in. The relationship with her only acquaintance from school, Anju, lacks any real warmth because Frenenqer doesn’t truly open herself up to anyone; it’s her defense mechanism to protect herself from getting hurt. Frenenqer’s parents don’t do anything to make her life any easier. Her father is so controlling it’s cruel, while her mother is seemingly uninterested in anything going on in her daughter’s life. Frenenqer lives a depressing existence, but she tries to live vicariously through the books she reads. She realizes the unfair way her father treats her, but feels powerless. She is convinced that she should have been born with wings and itches to fly and be free from the stifling confines of the desert and her family.

      This is Frenenqer’s sad existence – until she rescues a sickly cat from a local marketplace. Adopting the cat was, itself, an act of defiance towards her father – the first of more to come – but Frenenqer got more than she expected from her new pet.

      The cat, named Sangris, is actually not a cat at all, but a shape-shifter, a rare Free person that isn’t bound by the constraints of society or the human body. A short while after being adopted, Sangris shape-shifts into a human form and tries to sneak out of Frenenqer’s room in the middle of the night. She awakens before he can leave, and Frenenqer battles intense fear with curiosity. Curiosity wins, and she engages Sangris in conversation to learn more about what it’s like being a Free person. Frenenqer becomes completely entranced once Sangris reveals that he can sprout wings and fly to anywhere he pleases. Abandoning all caution, Frenenqer agrees to be Sangris’ passenger and takes off with him into the night to explore distant lands.

      However, one taste of freedom isn’t enough for Frenenqer. Although she still keeps herself closed off, she maintains a superficial friendship with Sangris in order to continue going on nightly visits to exotic locations. But Frenenqer’s nocturnal travels pose a couple of problems. First, Frenenqer’s nightly excursions embolden her to be more careless during the day too – and her father is the first to notice. Secondly, Frenenqer manages to keep her “friendship” with Sangris at arm’s length, but the same can’t be said for Sangris who begins to develop feelings for Frenenqer. What unfolds is a beautifully written story about love, friendship, freedom, and growing up, a story which leaves the reader yearning for a followup to this author’s debut novel.

      Despite the elements of teenage love in this novel, The Girl With Borrowed Wings isn’t a standard first love story. The author, Rinsai Rossetti, openly acknowledges this cliché through Frenenqer: “He. Does there have to be a he? It seems weak and unoriginal, doesn’t it, for stories told by girls to always have a he?” This musing, early on in the book, sets the stage for the story of this atypical heroine, a character whom I found to be personally endearing.

      The Girl With Borrowed Wings is beautifully written and makes use of great descriptive language and imagery: “My heart, on the other hand, had turned into a messy wet lump flying hard in its cage of meat”. The novel employs a couple of fantasy elements, but it isn’t a hard fantasy story. Sangris fulfills the role of mythical creature, shape shifting from boy to cat to dragon to gargoyle, and some of the exotic locales that Frenenqer and Sangris journey to include Spain and Thailand, but also mystical, fictional places and even places not on this Earth.

      The character development of the two main characters – Frenenqer and Sangris – is both entertaining and satisfying, with both characters growing and maturing by the end of the book. One thing to note for sensitive readers, there are a few brief instances where animals are treated poorly, or are living in poor conditions, which – to this animal lover – was somewhat disturbing to read, but only made up two or three pages of the entire book.

      Overall, The Girl With Borrowed Wings was a pleasure to read, and it may appeal to adult readers as well.

Highly Recommended.

Kalina Lafreniere is a library technician at Lakehead University Library in Orillia, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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