Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr
Published: 2011 by Akashic Books
Reading Challenges: A to Z Book Challenge
I’ve been attending the book discussion group at my area independent book store, Read Between the Lynes, for about 3 years now. It is a fairly small group, maybe 6 people at each discussion, so we are democratic on the books we select; even though our meetings take place in the bookstore we aren’t restricted to what is “the” book of the moment or what is most popular.
When we were selecting our books for the first part of this year, back in November, one of the members suggested a book called Wingshooters, and I don’t remember exactly how she described it, but to say that it was wonderful. There must have been something about what she said: the setting (rural Wisconsin), the characters (a young girl and her grandfather), or something else, but nothing sparked my interest for it at the time. As I always say, however, the best book club discussions are those where not everyone likes the book; so I purchased a copy and even though I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be able to attend the discussion due to other obligations I started reading.
Well, I am definitely going to the discussion, and I think I am going to hug the member who suggested this book. I loved it.
The setting is rural Wisconsin in 1974. Michelle LeBeau is living with her grandparents after her mother left her and her father, and her father in turn has left to find her mother. Not an unusual situation, really, except Michelle’s mother is Japanese and Michelle is viewed as an outsider by the residents of Deerhorn; and this includes her beloved grandfather, Charlie — the pillar of the community. Charlie certainly reciprocates her affection, but it is distant.
Michelle has no friends and is teased and bullied at school for being “different”. She has accepted her fate, content to spend time with her grandpa and his dog, Brett. Then one day a crisis takes over the entire community, when a black couple, a nurse for the new clinic and a subsitute teacher, come into town.
The Garretts go about their lives despite the turmoil that their arrival has caused in Deerhorn. Everyone comes to Charlie for guidance on how to “handle” the situation, and though he is as upset as everyone else he manages to calm things and hopes subtle means will result in the Garretts leaving on their own once they realize they are not welcome. Michelle relates to the Garretts and is especially amazed at how they carry themselves despite the treatment they receive. And as she gets to know the Garretts (without Charlie’s knowledge) she has an idea of why the others show so much resentment:
“It was bad enough, in people’s eyes, that a black couple had moved to Deerhorn at all. How much worse was it that the Garretts did not conform to their ideas of what black people could be? That they were professionals, with more education and skill than almost all the white people in town?”
Things heat up when Mr. Garrett discovers something about one of Charlie’s closest friends and speaks up about it. Describing the rest of the story would spoil it but suffice to say it is unbelievably powerful.
It sounds weird, but do you ever have that feeling when you are reading that you want to keep turning the pages, yet at the same time you want to stop reading for fear of what is going to happen? That is how I felt when I was reading this book. The last half of the book I finished in one sitting, even though after almost each chapter I’d put the book down and say to myself “Enough, I can’t take it anymore”; sometimes while brushing away tears. But I’d pick it up again and continue, hoping …..
Ok, it’s not a very happy story; I’ll give you that. But for me the fact that it is set in 1974 — not even 40 years ago! — and these racial conflicts are still happening — in Wisconsin, not the Deep South — makes it a book that should be read.
And yes, I said book club discussions are great when some people don’t like the book; and there may be members of my group who won’t like it (we will find out on Monday) – but this book is full of discussion-worthy topics that will certainly keep everyone talking.
Moral of the story: even if you don’t think you’ll like your next book club pick, try it anyway. You may be pleasantly surprised.