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The Anatomy of Wings


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About the Author

First-time novelist Karen Foxlee perfectly captures the essence of growing up in a small town and the complexities and absurdities of family life.

Karen Foxlee lives in Gympie, Australia. The Anatomy of Wings is her first novel. From the Hardcover edition.


Foxlee’s manuscript won her the 2006 Queensland premier’s award for best emerging author and if it were possible I’d suggest everyone read it in manuscript form-neither the final cover nor the earlier illustrated version that appeared in the publisher’s catalogue seems quite right. Indeed, it’s a difficult novel to categorise. Narrated by 10-year-old Jenny after her 14-year-old sister’s death, the book stealthily approaches the central fact of how and why Beth died through passages that alternate between the ‘present’ of the early 80s, in which Jenny’s family is grieving, and the ‘past’-the months leading up to the tragedy. While the cover might suggest some innocence, there are dark themes here. Beth has such a fragile sense of self that her determined entry into the grown-up domain-of sex, alcohol and the workforce-is marked by unwanted attention and sexual assault. Accepting that many scenes from Beth’s final months are partially imagined, the reader must often question the younger sister’s loving portrait of her clearly troubled sibling. In striving to give meaning to Beth’s life, Jenny cannot cold-heartedly dissect it-and this is one of the most poignant and successful aspects of the novel. Also beautiful is the strong sense of place. The small mining town, with its dust and storms, seems so real at times you can almost smell it. A moving debut. Matthia Dempsey is deputy editor of BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER

Gr 10 Up-This complex novel explores the fragility of innocence and the existence of miracles in everyday life. Jenny, a prepubescent girl in an Australian mining town, retraces the last year of her teenage sister's life in an effort to understand what appeared to be Beth's descent into moral degradation but was perhaps actually her acceptance of martyrdom after seeing an angel. Told through Jenny's naive and trusting voice, the narrative is nonetheless rich and languid, with the natural world awash in similes, the manmade world brimming with specific-pop culture references of 1980s Australia, and metaphors on nearly every page-of birds, fairies, winged insects, or angels. While Jenny's voice evokes characters in classic preteen literature-Lois Lowry's A Summer to Die (Houghton, 1977) and Katharine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (HarperCollins, 1980) come to mind-there is a truly adult sensibility to this story, especially in the brutality of the sexual situations in which Beth becomes involved, that recommends it to sophisticated readers. This is an unusually literary book that some readers will find deeply meaningful and beautiful, while others will roll their eyes at the preponderance of metaphorical imagery.-Rhona Campbell, Washington, DC Public Library Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Ten-year-old Jennifer has lost her singing voice and hopes she can find it again in the box of her dead sister Beth's possessions. At 14, Beth was a fragile soul living a wild life in their small, Australian mining town until the day she fell from a water tower. Now Jennifer seeks to make sense of her death. Why It Is for Us: Foxlee's first novel scored quite a blurb from best-selling author Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief): "Sometimes you read a book so special you want to carry it around for months." Foxlee deserves the praise. Her acute awareness of place and character is demonstrated in elegiac prose that evokes one family's sharp grief at the loss of their teenage daughter. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Set in the author's native Australia in the early 1980s, this sensitive debut novel weaves and bobs between two time frames as the narrator, Jennifer, tries to understand the death of her older sister, 14-year-old Beth, who fell from a water tower. In the prevailing view, Beth was wild: she had sex with strangers and fell asleep, drunk, in neighbors' yards. But the girls' grandmother believes that Beth once saw an angel and had a bit of grace in her ever since, and that her acts were her attempts to save people. Jennifer sees evidence of both, remembering that "the more [Beth] glowed, the wilder she got." Trying to understand Beth's decline and to cope with her own grief, which has deprived her of her singing voice, Jennifer searches for clues in a box of Beth's belongings. Tangents may confuse; at times, the litany of small details and anecdotes burden the plot. But the metaphors embedded in the story and the luscious prose ( a teacher's eyes are "a flat gray-green and impenetrable as a crocodile's") will hold readers until the moving conclusion. Ages 14-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Starred Review, Booklist, January 1 & 15th, 2009:
"[A] shining debut . . . Foxlee captures the small ways that humans reveal themselves, the mysterious intensity of female adolescence, and the surreal quiet of a grieving house, which slowly and with astonishing resilience fills again with sound and music." From the Hardcover edition.

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