Tuesday, April 13, 2010

REVIEW: Asta in the Wings, by Jan Elizabeth Watson


Asta in the Wings, by Jan Elizabeth Watson. Published 2009 by Tin House Books. Literary Fiction.

Asta in the Wings is one of the best books I've read in a while.

Jan Elizabeth Watson's novel is about a little girl, seven year old Asta Hewitt, who lives with her mother and her older brother Orion in a house in Maine. She's never been to school- she's barely even been outside the house, believing her mother's stories about plagues and holocaust. Then one day her mother doesn't come home from work, and she and Orion venture outside to find her. What follows blends Asta's wonder at the outside world with her fear (and ignorance) of it. It's not long until the adult world intervenes in Asta and Orion's fate, as the details of their life with their mother unfold alongside their new lives. The children eventually find the beginnings of a new life, with the hope that they won't have to leave the old one behind entirely.

To love Asta in the Wings you have to love Asta, and I did. Watson evokes affection for Asta that never lapses into pity, because the girl, with her intelligence, resilience and loyalty, carries an optimism that makes the reader believe in her and share her faith in herself and her future, if not exactly that of her family. She's not angry at her mother- she's too innocent for that, and Watson leaves that to the reader anyway. But even the reader's anger is held off because Watson keeps Asta's mother at a distance. Loretta Hewitt is a faded beauty obsessed with old movies; she keeps the children isolated and she says it's for their own good but we never really learn why. Since we don't really know whether she is driven by cruelty or delusion we don't know whether or not to pity her.

She writes the book in the first person, from the adult Asta's point of view but her more worldly voice rarely breaks in; instead we have to see the world through her child's eyes and what we see is a wonder. I read Asta in the Wings in a couple of days; I found it difficult to put down and was sad to see it end. I'd suggest it to literary fiction readers and all readers of coming-of-age stories; it's beautifully crafted and compelling, though not particularly light. It's also very optimistic and ends on a bittersweet note of hope. I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved. You will too!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

13 comments:

John A. Walsh said...

This sounds excellent! I'll have to grab this one from my bookstore (AKA the BPL).

Paperback Reader said...

My friend in the States has been raving about this one to me for months but the last I checked it wasn't available here/my library didn't have it. Thank you for reminding me to check again! It's always good to have a great review reinforced.

Tribute Books said...

This sounds like a very compelling and interesting book, thanks for the great review.

Hannah Stoneham said...

This sounds like a touching and involving read - I am inteested by your comments on how as a reader you become attached to the main character - the hallmark of so many of my favourite reads!

thanks for sharing

Hannah

caite said...

wait...so I'm not sure...did you like it?

seriously, it sounds like a winner! I was sold when you said it had an optimistic point of view. If it was very negative I would not be up for it right now.

Aarti said...

This sounds like a really great story! I agree stories like this are character-driven and really require you to form an attachment to the main "voice," which can be good or bad, depending on the author's success with that.

Zibilee said...

Oh, this does sound like a book I would love. The synopsis sounds very intriguing and original and I would really be interested in finding out what life in Asta's world is like. Wonderfully enthusiastic review, Marie. I am off to add this to the wish list!

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

This sounds really interesting - definitely one I'll try to track down!

mattviews said...

When you said it's the best book for a while, that means I have to get on it! I love the premise of the novel and like that it's written in the perspective of a child.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds so good. Asta sounds fascinating, but so does her mother!

jewwishes said...

What a great review, Marie!!! If you "loved, loved.....it" I am sure I will too.

Sandra said...

I read and recommended this book too. I am often displeased by the endings of stories about neglected children. But this one was very satisfying. So glad you liked it too.

Jeanne said...

I hadn't heard of this before. I love the mystery of why a child would be kept indoors and hidden from the world in the old Peter Sellers movie Being There and it sounds even more intriguing here.