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The Anatomy of Wings    by Karen Foxlee Amazon.com order for
Anatomy of Wings
by Karen Foxlee
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Anatomy of Wings, Karen Foxlee's first novel for young adults, is filled with tenderness, sadness, joy and beauty, in both its description of the Australian landscape and its revelation of the minds and hearts of a family in turmoil. It is told through the eyes of ten-year old Jennifer Day, whose fourteen-year old sister Beth took her own life.

Jennifer inspects the contents of Beth's blue cardboard box 'a black rubber-band bracelet, a silver necklace with a half-a-broken heart pendant, an address written in a leftward-slanting hand on a scrap of paper, and ballet slippers wrapped in their laces'. With her best friend Angela, Jennifer attempts to understand her sister's final months, searching for why she herself has lost her singing voice, now trapped deep inside her.

At the beginning, Jennifer muses, 'Years later when I go to the dry river everything is less than in my memories. The riverbed is narrower ... fewer ghost gum trees. I remember an entire stand behind the sand track, or this is how it seemed. They were evenly spaced, each giant with its own territory of solitude. I remember the quiet ... the sound of our footsteps on the fallen leaves, our voices in the stillness. Now many of the trees are gone ... our tree is still there.'

There's family animosity before and after Beth's death. Nanna turns to her religious beliefs, invoking Saints to speak to Beth, and saying that 'I forgive her'. Before Beth's death, Mum (now numb in her loss) expressed to others, 'I just don't know what to do ... She won't listen to a thing I say ... I don't even know who she is anymore.' The parents were told by a clinician that 'puberty is a difficult stage; Beth would grow out of it.' Beth had been expelled from school after an incident, and Mum wonders why the boy's suspension wasn't as long. And Jennifer was at school when the police came to the house, Dad working the night shift.

Of the writing, Karen Foxlee remarked, 'I first thought of the story of Beth a long time ago. I was very homesick, for Australia working in a hotel in the Canadian Rockies, far from home. I started writing about my hometown and this wild girl called Beth who used to ride her bike up and down the streets and get into trouble ... I finally found the voice of Jennifer and the story could be told properly.'

To read The Anatomy of Wings once beckons the reader back for another glance, knowing that the story will stay within forever. Foxlee's words form a constant flowing fountain, and I look forward to more stories from this author.

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