To be completely honest, I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I decided to read Wing Jones. I don't read a huge amount of contemporary YA becuase I find it so hit and miss, and when it misses, it tends to miss badly because the line between relatable and patronising is a fine one. But the bookish lovelies taking part in the #BritishBooksChallenge2017 steered me onto this one, so I decided to give it a go, thinking it might be a harmless way to pass a few lunch breaks at work if nothing else.
I wasn't expecting to absolutely fall in love with it.
From the moment Wing Jones arrived, all sprayed magenta pages with a colour fade to die for, I was hooked. First off, the book is utterly gorgeous (and yet another example of the UK cover being far superior to the US one). Second off, the story - while sounding a bit cliched and by the numbers in the blurb - is fantastic, packed with nuances, fab writing and brilliant chracters. Third off - it packs far more of an emotional punch than I was expecting, but still manages to be overwhelming uplifting. Fourth off (okay, I'm stretching it with this counting system!) - in a genre that's crying out for diversity, Wing Jones has it in spades. And not just a box-ticking exercise with a few token ethnicities or sexual orientations thrown around, but genuine, well-rounded and well-written characters that aren't your out-of-the-box, straight, white characters. Hurray!
Wing doesn't have an easy life. She lives with her loving extended, half-Chinese half-Ghanaian family, having lost her father as a child. Her football-superstar brother Marcus has it all, but Wing has never seemed to fit in anywhere. Insecure about her looks, bullied at school and almost totally friendless, she's the kind of girl that wouldn't know how to go about looking for her place in the world, if she even believed it existed at all. But after an accident turns her world upside down, Wing is forced out of the rut she's been comfortable - albeit miserable - in, out of her brother's shadow and into the spotlight.
I was on tenderhooks through the first few chapters, knowing that something bad was about to happen but not quite knowing what it would be or when it would happen. The blurb was a bit of a spoiler - the emotional gut punch would have been ten times more powerful had I not seen it coming - but even so, the events which set Wing on her journey of self discovery are suitably shattering. Katherine Webber's writing is phenomonal, reducing me to tears on more than one occasion.
The characters are what makes this book so wonderful! It wasn't so much the friendships, but the importance of family that shone through the story. From Wing's own hectic, seemingly mismatched family, to the inclusion of her brother's girlfriend Monica - ostracised by her own family for dating a black guy - and his best friend Aaron who's practically family himself, the message was clear, and it raises the valid point; that real family is what you make of it. Wing's constantly bickering grannies were the highlight - I have to admit that Granny Dee just beat LaoLao into second place for my favourite supporting character! - but Monica, and Wing's supportive running team mate, Eliza, were refreshing changes to the pretty girl hate that's so maddeningly prevalent in YA. There's no rivalry between Wing and Eliza, just mutual respect and encouragement. There's no jealousy or backbiting between Wing and Monica, just support. Sure, there's resident high school bitch Heather who pops up to antagonise Wing every now and then, but even with her, there's the suggestion of more going on beneath the surface.
And then there's Wing and her sort-of love interest Aaron. Awwwww! I just can't with these two! I was a little concerned at first that their romance was going to come off as just gross. Aaron is after all Wing's older brother's best friend, he's practically one of the family, so developing Wing's crush on him into something more could have turned majorly creepy. But instead, it just works. I think anyone with an older brother had a crush or two on his friends growing up, but, despite starting out as little more than teenage infatuation on Wing's part, their relationship develops and blossoms through their love of Marcus and their mutual passion for running. Despite the book being quite short and a lot else going on, the romance never felt rushed or contrived, which is one of my biggest issues with a lot of the contemporary YA I've read in the past. The romance often feels forced into the story for the sake of it and can end up detracting from the plot. But that didn't happen here. The romance between Wing and Aaron feel like a natural part of the story. It's a consequence of the plot, not the plot itself, and more importantly, it felt real. Some books get this wrong, but this book gets it completely right.
The recurring appearance of Wing's two guardian angel/spirit creatures was hauntingly beautiful. I was a little skeptical of the stereotypical dragon representing her Asian roots and the lion stepping up for her African heritage at first, it just seemed a little too on the nose for me (then again, I suppose if you're going for fierce creatures from those continents, I wouldn't have any better suggestions), but the strength they possessed, showing up when Wing was hurt or scared or suffering was touching to the point of making me tear up. It's a testament to how uplifting and engrossing this book is that is almost inspired me to go for a run. Almost. I'll be honest, it would take a book filled with pictures of Tom Hardy naked placed at the finish line to make me run anywhere. But the fact that Katherine Webber has managed to make running seem almost appealing to a girl who doesn't believe a person should run unless they're being chased is no mean feat.
The ending wraps up a little abruptly and a little too neatly for me (even though it does acknowledge that Wing and her family's struggles aren't over), but it's a minor nitpick that can't detract from all the wonderful chapters that have come before it. Wing Jones is an emotional, uplifting and inspiring book, one that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone. I'm so glad I decided to get in on the British Books Challenge 2017 (thanks to Chelle Toy over at Tale of Yesterday for hosting and organising this year!) and that the guys turned me onto this book because I would have missed out on what I'm sure will be one of my favourite reads of the year.