Not since Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness has a book made me feel so claustrophobic. Not since Justina Chen Headley’s North of Beautiful have I longed so desperately to kick a fictional father down a flight of stairs.*
In Rinsai Rossetti’s The Girl with Borrowed Wings, 16-year-old Frenenquer lives in an oppressive environment—a small, dusty Middle Eastern desert oasis—with an even more oppressive father. As in The White Darkness, she is surrounded by space, but unable to take advantage of it. As in North of Beautiful, her father’s resentful, forbidding nature prevents her from any outward form of self-expression and, one-upping North of Beautiful, out of self-preservation Frenenquer avoids even internal emotion.
Then she meets a boy with wings.
Read Bookshelves of Doom on 'Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone.'
Don’t worry! Despite the undeniable attractiveness of Sangris’ “lounging, absentminded maleness,” this isn’t a love-of-a-boy-solves-all-of-the-heroine’s-problems story. Within the first few pages, Rossetti—through Frenenquer—acknowledges the cliched aspect of the trope:
He. Does there always have to be a he? It seems weak and unoriginal, doesn’t it, for stories told by girls to always have a he? Well, not in my life, nor in the lives of my friends. …So you see, for there to be a he in my story is a very unusual thing indeed, but then, the circumstances were unusual too, and the boy himself, if you can call him that, even more so.
Frenenquer is a girl who is trapped in every which way, and Sangris is a boy with limitless freedom, but they’ve got the same problem. Sangris feels that his lack of boundaries has prevented him from ever forming any sort of identity, while Frenenquer’s lack of freedom forces her to keep her own mind, heart and personality tamped down and locked away.
Frenenquer’s voice is distinct and original, and she and Sangris are both flawed, believable characters. The stifling atmosphere she lives in works as a perfect counterpoint to the exhilaration of her stolen moments of freedom.
That said, I can’t say that my reading experience was particularly pleasurable. At one point, I stomped into the kitchen, shook the book at my husband, and said, “If this doesn’t end well, we’re going out for ice cream!”** Despite Frenenquer’s hints to the contrary, I kept flipping to the front cover, rereading Nancy Werlin’s blurb—which labels The Girl with Borrowed Wings as “absolutely delicious”—and trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t end badly.
Like For Darkness Shows the Stars, reading it felt like being stabbed.*** Unlike the Peterfreund, the stabbing was more painful than pleasurable, because I didn’t know how it would end, and the realism and deeply internalized complexity of Frenenquer’s issues with her father. Until I realized the depth of the internalization, I found it quite difficult to completely relate to Frenenquer. I just wanted her to walk—nay, RUN!—away, and for the first three-quarters of the book, I just couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t. Once I did, though—once her true feelings were finally laid bare—I did understand, and I felt horribly guilty for being less empathetic previously.
It’s a lovely book and one worth reading. But consider yourself forewarned: emotionally, it’s no stroll in the park.
*Which seems to be a trend with me, as I told our intern today that I wanted to do the same thing to the entire cast of Wuthering Heights.
**[SPOILER] We went out for ice cream anyway.
***I mean a LITERAL STABBING SENSATION. Do other people react this physically to books? Please tell me I’m not alone in this.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.