The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published September 2015 by Thomas Dunne.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via Netgalley. Thank you Thomas Dunne for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA magical realism.

My rating:

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

srcek

I went into this story thinking it was a fantasy but was pleasantly surprised when I realised it’s actually better described as magical realism. I haven’t read many books in this genre, but one of my favourites of 2015 was The Accident Season (which I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about), which is a great mashup of magical realism and fairy stories.

Anyway, The Weight of Feathers is set in California about 30 years ago (?) and is a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet, though the only real similarity is the enmity of the two families. The misunderstanding that brought along this feud is nearly forgotten and the younger generations don’t even know the specifics – they just keep hating each other because that’s how they were raised. I think this book makes an excellent point on the futility/danger of such hereditary hate – it is difficult to go against everything your family has taught you but sometimes your family might, in fact, be wrong.

Both families, the Palomas and the Corbeaus (if you’re unfamiliar with your bird lore, the first means “doves” and the second “crows”), are performers – the Corbeaus are former tightrope walkers and now stage their shows in trees, wearing magnificent wings that Cluck, the hero of our story, is charged with making and fixing. The Palomas perform in the lake – the girls of the clan dress up as mermaids and do some sort of synchronised swimming show. Lace Paloma has just earned her tail and is very proud to be part of the group. The only part I didn’t understand is why the Palomas were named after birds if they’re actually pretend-mermaids, but yeah, it’s not exactly a deal breaker.

The hate between the families is so deep that the Palomas believe that the touch of a Corbeau brings a terrible curse on the person. The Corbeaus have feathers growing underneath their hair (and Cluck is a runt because his feathers are tinged with red, not uniform black) and Paloma girls have a scaly birthmark that marks them as mermaids – it is said that a touch of a Corbeau feather will make those scales fall off (I KNOW, I’m making this sound way more confusing than it actually is). So when Lace finds a feather imprinted on her skin after Cluck saves her from a chemical accident, she’s banished from the family and set to roam alone (okay so this part was a bit weird). Not one to mope around, Lace infiltrates the Corbeau clan to return the feather to its owner – Cluck – but finds secrets and love instead.

What I liked most, perhaps, was this dreamy quality of the writing. It’s never clear exactly what’s going on, the magical aspects of the two families are half-myth, half-fact, and I would pay good money to be able to see those shows because they sound amazing.

Despite my minor complaints, this was a very enjoyable YA romance. I gave it bonus points for being a stand-alone because this world is littered with series that should have been single books. If you like stories about forbidden love and shy boys that include subtle magic, vintage cars, and mermaids, this might just be the book for you.

srcek

Have you read The Weight of Feathers? Does it sound like a book you might enjoy?

Do you have any favourite magical realism books? I’d like to explore the genre and need some recommendations. 

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • I’m a sucker for forbidden love stories, and I’m so glad to hear it’s a standalone – special bonus! I have an audiobook request of this pending, so seeing that you liked it makes me excited to listen :)

    • Yeah, I’ve been picking more standalones lately, though my unfinished series list is insanely long. Forbidden love is always a bonus. I wonder what the audiobook will be like – is this a review copy of the audiobook? I didn’t know those existed…

  • You recommended this to me a while back and it has been on my TBR ever since. It does sound a lot like Girl on a Wire, which I loved. It makes me especially happy that you mention wanting to see the shows since the circus lover in me will certainly enjoy reading about the performance aspect. And the way you describe never really knowing what’s fact or fiction sounds like Big Fish (the movie) which is one of my all-time favorites. So I think I really need to read this! But I need to be in, like, a cutesy kind of reading mood lol.

    • Mm, yeah, the Corbeau show especially (up in the trees, fairy lights twinkling, dancers wearing wings) would be an amazing spectacle. I wouldn’t say it’s a cutesy type of book but it IS optimistic and kind of beautiful. :)

  • I happen to be 1/4 of the way through this book! As a person named Paloma (and raised in a place where nobody else had the same name), this book can be hilariously jarring to read. :P

    Agreed on the doves/crows water/air mismatch. Spanish surnames having to do with water (e.g. Rivera) would have been a better match.

    • Ooh, I can imagine that would be weird. I’ve never read a book with my name in it – probably because I mostly read in English.

      Right? Or maybe something fishy :p I hope you’ll enjoy it – and I’ll be looking for your review!

  • MissBookiverse

    I love Magical Realism, this one sounds right up my alley! My favourite one from this genre is probably The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, have you read that yet? The Girl With Glass Feet is an interesting one, too and I’ve heard great things about The Bone Gap. I read the Accident Season a few weeks ago as well and I agree, it was a fantastic book. Maybe also have a look at Imaginary Girls, it has a similar vibe.

    • I heard of the Ava Lavender book – or rather I saw the cover, it caught my eye when it was published because it’s gorgeous! And another commenter recommended it here so I’m definitely giving it a try soon (a bonus point: it seems to be a standalone!).

      Anything with a similar vibe to The Accident Season is worth checking out, too, I can’t wait for Fowley-Doyle’s next book!

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

      • MissBookiverse

        The prose is as gorgeous as the cover, I promise :D And yes, it is a standalone.

        You’re welcome. Your blog is worth it :D

  • I really liked this one as well. Magical realism is something I didn’t know I had a real appetite for until this year. I’d recommend The Strange of Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and the Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. I believe you’ve already read The Accident Season, but it’s worth bringing up again.

    • I keep bringing up The Accident Season any chance I get. People are probably getting sick of me, but it’s a great book.
      Thank you for all the recs – I remember seeing the cover of the Ava Lavender book, it’s gorgeous! And another reader recommended it, too, it looks like one of those forgotten gems. I read The Night Circus and liked it a lot – though I had some problems with the different timelines, I could never really tell WHEN it was in the story…

  • I knew practically nothing about this book, I just saw travelling performers and was intrigued but you have fully convinced me. I know there are some weird confusing elements (the touch of death thing makes no sense) and family feuds do tend to make roll my eyes (Romeo and Juliet is the most annoying Shakespeare play for me) but I’m intrigued now. I love YA, I’m easy to please that way, and you just don’t get enough magical realism in YA so I will definitely pick this one up if I see it, you’ve convinced me with travelling performers and magical realism. I’ve been a fan of magical realism since reading some of Cecelia Ahern’s books where she has imaginary friends being a job people have, and the one where the main character goes to the land of lost things (I can’t remember the names of the books, which is annoying) so I will always read anything labelled with magical realism, even though I may sometimes regret it.

    • Just a warning: I recently saw several “meh” reviews for this one. I think you have to be in the right mood to like it, something a bit dreamy and slow. I don’t know how to explain it better…

      Haha, a Romeo and Juliet hater, really?! I dislike the tragic aspect of it all, what with them being 13 years old or something, but it has spawned many retellings, so that’s cool. Which is your favourite Shakespeare play? I don’t think I’ve ever asked an English person about that. Did they make you read them all in school?

      Anyway, read The Accident Season first if you’re craving magical realism, I’ll never stop pestering folks with that one. ;) Several of the commenters recommended it, too!

      You know, I only read one Cecila Ahern book – Thanks for the Memories – and I watched PS I Love You and thought that they were both more than a little creepy. Something about those stories just didn’t click! I know you’re a fan though, what’s your favourite?

      • I have to be in the right mood to read most books, I’ve seen a lot more positive reviews than meh ones so I will give it a chance. Eventually.

        And I think it was partly their age that was annoying in Romeo and Juliet, but more the fact the two were convinced they were in love and barely knew each other. And they didn’t even attempt a sensible conversation, just went off and had their own ideas how to sort things out and got each other killed. It was so frustrating to read. We didn’t have to read all of them for school, but we did read some Shakespeare. I’ve only read Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and King Lear. I’ve always thought I should read more, but it’s finding the motivation to read and understand a play, it’s so much easier seeing them on stage.

        I think my favourite of the 3 was King Lear, there was that one fantastic speech King Lear made after he’d gone a bit made about a storm raging and I loved it. It’s another tragedy, but way more enjoyable as their was no romance involved. Instead it’s an epic family drama of scheming and sister’s plotting to kill each other, all whilst the old King goes crazy. I loved it. Do you have a favourite? And was it as confusing for you understanding the language as it was for me? I feel like understanding Shakespearean English should count as learning another language.

        I am re-adding The Accident Season to the top of my bookish buying list because I now have a little notebook filled with books I want to buy for when I go shopping or to the library because I can never remember what books I want to read.

        And I know Cecelia Ahern isn’t for everyone (although can I say film version of PS I Love You is very different from the book version) but I think my favourite would probably be If You Could See Me Now (imaginary friends are involved) or A Place Called Here (a woman goes to the place of lost things) both are a bit weird, but they just work for me. I need to find more authors that write magical realism, I really do. That’s my next thing to Google, I think.