Hi everyone! Today it’s my absolute pleasure to host the latest stop on The Weight Of Feathers blog tour, one of my most highly-anticipated 2015 releases and a book that is very near and dear to my heart. Please read on to find my book review, a breathtaking excerpt from the novel, as well as a wonderful opportunity to win a signed, finished copy of Anna-Marie McLemore’s incomparable 2015 debut, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press!
Title The Weight Of Feathers
Author Anna-Marie McLemore
Published September 15th, 2015 by A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Magical Realism, Romance
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Received a finished copy from the publisher for review (Thanks St. Martin’s Press!), Hardcover
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● Barnes & Noble ● iBooks
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.
Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.
The feathers were Lace’s first warning. They showed up between suitcases, in the trunk of her father’s station wagon, on the handles of came-with-the-car first-aid kits so old the gauze had yellowed. They snagged on antennas, turning the local stations to static.
Two households, both alike in dignity, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny… What begins as a professional rivalry between travelling performance troupes quickly turns sinister – and potentially deadly – as one night alters the lives of two families forever.
If there’s one thing Lace Paloma knows for sure, it’s that you can never trust a Corbeau. With feathers in their hair and nets in their hands, the better with which to ensnare unsuspecting Paloma sirenas, there is nothing a Corbeau won’t do. After all, they must be responsible for the flood that happened many moons ago, the one that swept away Tía Lora’s husband. At least, that’s how the Palomas tell it…
If there’s one thing Cluck Corbeau knows for sure, it’s that you can never trust a Paloma. With scales on their skin and petroleum jelly in their hands, the better with which to slick the branches of the highest trees on which the Corbeaus perform, there’s nothing a Paloma won’t do. After all, they must be responsible for the flood that happened many moons ago, the one that swept away Clémentine’s oldest brother’s wife and caused Pépère’s to lose his job and his autonomy, the two things he valued most. At least, that’s how the Corbeaus tell it…
One story. Two very different perspectives. As the years pass, the acts of sabotage worsen and decades-old superstition and animosity continue to fester, the war wages on between the two families. Much like the fateful night that defined their families twenty years prior, however, Lace and Cluck will once again be forever altered by a chance meeting and an audacious act of gallantry that will force them to confront their illusions, their loyalty, and where the truth truly lies. In McLemore’s inspired and inventive re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet, readers will be swept into a fantastical landscape of feuding families, star-crossed lovers, and a love strong enough to conquer it all.
Fighting was the only safe way to touch a Paloma. Half this family believed if they ever let a Paloma brush their arm or bump their shoulder, they’d wither and die like wildflowers in July sun. But fighting was safe. The rage made it true and good. The anger and honour of defending the family shielded them like a saint’s prayer. Hitting and kicking were safe. Anything else could bring sickness.
Much like the classification that defines it – magical realism – Anna-Marie McLemore’s stunning 2015 debut appears to defy description. In many ways, The Weight Of Feathers feels much larger than a single story. While the novel focuses predominantly on the passionate and tempestuous love between two characters and the opposing forces that work to keep them apart, Lace and Cluck’s tale is not one told in a vacuum. Rather, it is a narrative wrapped in an intricate and meticulously-crafted web of history, ethnicity, community and culture, as grand in scope as it is in message. Touching upon pressing and important issues including prejudice, oppression and domestic violence, McLemore’s work is one which will continually challenge readers. To do better. To be better. To learn. And, ultimately, to grow. Mature, magical, elegant and absolutely extraordinary, The Weight Of Feathers is an incandescent masterpiece that reimagines an age-old classic for a new generation.
…There was a kind of intensity in her eyes, a look like she’d pinched herself until she came out from under the morphine. It gave him hope that her coming here was about more than an apology held in that paper bag and watermelon rind. This hope, that she was here not to explain herself but for him, slid into his hand like a found penny.
The Weight Of Feathers is no less than an empowering and revolutionary opportunity, offering young readers the chance to explore a world and a wealth of experiences so rarely, if ever, examined in fiction. In the novel, debut author Anna-Marie McLemore demonstrates why she is one of the most promising and exciting new voices in the young adult literary market today, weaving a beautiful multicultural tapestry and encouraging diversity by using a great deal of care, sensitivity and research (as well as her own unique perspective) in order to amplify marginalized voices, as individuals, as a community, and in relation to one another. The Weight Of Feathers is told from the alternative perspective of Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau, both of whom have a distinctive voice that compliments the narrative as well as one another. Much of the dialogue is interspersed with words or phrases in their native tongue – Spanish and French, respectively – lending an interesting cadence to the text as well as furthering the sense of authenticity that appears to be McLemore’s signature. Lace is a girl on the cusp of womanhood, unused to her changing body and the power it can wield. Cluck is a boy searching for a safe space to call his own. A haven. From the brutality of his brother’s fists. The cool dismissal and disdain of his mother’s gaze. And from a life that, like his grandfather, he never wished to lead. Despite the disparity in their upbringing, their experiences, and their cultures, however, Lace and Cluck have a great deal in common, not least of which is their quest to define themselves independently from their families. In order to find their way to one another, they must first discover the truth about, and within, themselves.
If she hated him she’d be like them, their scorn of Cluck Corbeau the same as a shared eye colour. It would make her one of them.
But she could defy them by touching him.
She shut her eyes, took his hand, let him pull her to standing. The grain of his burns gliding over hers stung. The heat of his hand radiated through her wrist. If she squeezed her eyes shut harder, she could hear Abuela’s gasp like the rush of the river’s current.
But it didn’t kill her. And it didn’t make her father and Tía Lora feel any farther away.
While The Weight Of Feathers might prove challenging for some reluctant or impatient readers, I was immediately enraptured by a world unlike any I had encountered before. Like a shooting star sweeping across the sky, McLemore’s debut is composed of an ephemeral sort of magic that exists only for a short time, but looms large in one’s memory long after that moment has passed. This feeling is further accentuated by the poetic lyricism of the author’s prose and the ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere McLemore has so expertly crafted. Despite the many fantastical elements that permeate the text, however, The Weight Of Feathers is paradoxically also grounded solidly in reality, touching upon a number of important, real-life issues including prejudice, oppression, and domestic violence. As travelling performers, both the Palomas and the Corbeaus are met with suspicion and thinly-veiled hostility from those outside of their respective troupes, an unnecessary cruelty which is further exacerbated by the xenophobia they face because of their Latin American and Romani ancestry. With the help of meticulous research and a discerning eye, however, the author banishes hackneyed stereotypes and damaging discrimination with a sweep of her pen, reminding us of the power of diverse literature in encouraging education, empathy, and understanding. This is, in fact, one of the themes that underscores the entirety of the text: That what marks us out and makes us different need not make us an object of scorn, fear, or derision. Rather, it is these differences that make us most beautiful. The Paloma’s escamas. The Corbeau’s feathers. Cluck’s hand. Lace’s scars. Although often likened to Romeo and Juliet, comparisons to Shakespeare’s most famous work are apt, if not entirely accurate. McLemore dares to take the narrative in new and unexpected directions the English playwright would not, extracting the most simple seed and allowing it to blossom into a field of unparalleled beauty, brilliance, and ingenuity.
Her hand found the feathers under his hair, soft and thick as river grass, and she kissed him back. She opened her mouth to his and pretended the sky was water.
In what is sure to prove a staple amongst ‘Best Of 2015’ lists, Anna-Marie McLemore proves that she is a voice, and a force, to be reckoned with. In The Weight Of Feathers, McLemore reimagines a familiar and beloved tale, breathing new light, and new life, into every single syllable. She makes it her own. She makes it better. It’s rare that words fail me. As a blogger, as a reader, and as a writer, words have always been my touchstone. My constant. But sometimes no words are good enough, strong enough, to convey the depth of feeling experienced when one reads a story like this for the very first time. Most readers are lucky to experience one or two novels of this calibre in a lifetime. I can now count myself as one of those lucky few, and will stop at nothing until those amongst me who can say the same are legion. Move over, Shakespeare. You’ve got some serious competition on your hands.
Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?
● Kristen @ My Friends Are Fiction wrote “The Weight Of Feathers brought me to tears, had me rooting for the main characters and completely entranced in these two family’s dramas.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
● Nick @ Nick’s Book Blog wrote “It’s beautifully written, with a vivid and complex prose and has some lovely characters that shine through the pages. From start to finish, I was entirely enchanted with this lovely book.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
● Danielle @ Love At First Page wrote “The Weight of Feathers is the reader’s version of a visual feast, beautifully written and full of wondrous imagery. My heart ached for these characters, and I wanted nothing more than for Lace and Cluck to put aside their families’ bitterness and find their own, more satisfying happy ending.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
About Anna-Marie McLemore
Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and grew up in a Mexican-American family. She attended University of Southern California on a Trustee Scholarship. A Lambda Literary Fellow, she has had work featured by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, CRATE Literary Magazine’s cratelit, Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Series, and The Portland Review. The Weight Of Feathers is her first novel.
The Weight Of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Griffin.
The feathers were Lace’s ﬁrst warning. They showed up between suitcases, in the trunk of her father’s station wagon, on the handles of came-with-the-car ﬁrst-aid kits so old the gauze had yellowed. They snagged on antennas, turning the local stations to static.
Lace’s mother found a feather in with the family’s costumes the day they crossed into Almendro, a town named for almond ﬁelds that once ﬁlled the air with the scent of sugary blossoms and bitter wood. But over the last few decades an adhesive plant had bought out the farms that could not survive the droughts, and the acres of almonds dwindled to a couple of orchards on the edge of town.
The wisp of that black feather caught on a cluster of sequins. Lace knew from the set to her mother’s eyes that she’d throw the whole mermaid tail in a bucket and burn it, elastane and all.
Lace grabbed the tail and held on. If her mother burned it, it would take Lace and her great-aunt at least a week to remake it. Tía Lora’s hands were growing stiff, and Lace’s were new and slow.
Her mother tried to pull the tail from her grip, but Lace balled the fabric in her hands.
“Let go,” her mother warned.
“It’s one feather.” Lace dug in her ﬁngers. “It’s not them.” Lace knew the danger of touching a Corbeau. Her abuela said she’d be better off petting a rattlesnake. But these feathers were not the Corbeaus’ skin. They didn’t hold the same poison as a Corbeau’s body.
“It’s cursed,” her mother said. One hard tug, and she won. She threw the costume tail into a bucket and lit it. The metal pail grew hot as a stove. The fumes off the melting sequins stung Lace’s throat.
“Did you have to burn the whole thing?” she asked.
“Better safe, mija,” her mother said, wetting down the undergrowth with day-old aguas frescas so the brush wouldn’t catch.
They could have cleaned the tail, blessed it, stripped away the feather’s touch. Burning it only gave the Corbeaus more power. Those feathers already had such weight. The ﬁre in the pail was an admission that, against them, Lace’s family had no guard.
Before Lace was born, the Palomas and the Corbeaus had just been competing acts, two of the only shows left that bothered with the Central Valley’s smallest towns. Back then it was just business, not hate. Even now Lace’s family sometimes ended up in the same town with a band of traveling singers or acrobats, and there were no ﬁghts, no blood. Only the wordless agreement that each of them were there to survive, and no grudges after. Every fall when the show season ended, Lace’s aunts swapped hot-plate recipes with a trio of trapeze artists. Her father traded homeschooling lesson plans with a troupe of Georgian folk dancers.
The Corbeaus never traded anything with anyone. They shared nothing, took nothing. They kept to themselves, only straying from the cheapest motel in town to give one of Lace’s cousins a black eye, or leave a dead ﬁsh at the riverbank. Lace and Martha found the last one, its eye shining like a wet marble.
Before Lace was born, these were bloodless threats, ways the Corbeaus tried to rattle her family before their shows. Now every Paloma knew there was nothing the Corbeaus wouldn’t do.
Lace’s mother watched the elastane threads curl inside a shell of ﬂame. “They’re coming,” she said.
“Did you think they wouldn’t?” Lace asked. Her mother smiled. “I can hope, can’t I?”
She could hope all she wanted. The Corbeaus wouldn’t give up the crowds that came with Almendro’s annual festival. So many tourists, all so eager to ﬁll their scrapbooks. That meant two weeks in Almendro. Two weeks when the younger Paloma men hardened their ﬁsts, and their mothers prayed they didn’t come home with broken ribs.
Lace’s grandmother set the schedule each year, and no one spoke up against Abuela. If they ever did, she’d pack their bags for them. Lace had watched Abuela cram her cousin Licha’s things into a suitcase, clearing her perfumes and lipsticks off the motel dresser with one sweep of her arm. When Lace visited her in Visalia and they went swimming, Licha’s two-piece showed that her escamas, the birthmarks that branded her a Paloma, had disappeared.
Lace’s mother taught her that those birthmarks kept them safe from the Corbeaus’ feathers. That family was el Diablo on earth, with dark wings strapped to their bodies, French on their tongues, a sprinkling of gypsy blood. When Lace slept, they went with her, living in nightmares made of a thousand wings.
Another black feather swirled on a downdraft. Lace watched it spin and fall. It settled in her hair, its slight weight like a moth’s feet.
Her mother snatched it off Lace’s head. “¡Madre mía!” she cried, and threw it into the ﬂames.
Lace’s cousins said the Corbeaus grew black feathers right out of their heads, like hair. She never believed it. It was another rumor that strengthened the Corbeaus’ place in their nightmares. But the truth, that wind pulled feathers off the wings they wore as costumes, wasn’t a strong enough warning to keep Paloma children from the woods.
“La magia negra,” her mother said. She always called those feathers black magic.
The ﬁre dimmed to embers. Lace’s mother gave the pail a hard kick. It tumbled down the bank and into the river, the hot metal hissing and sinking.
“Let them drown,” her mother said, and the last of the rim vanished.
As an extra special bonus, St. Martin’s Press has been kind enough to offer readers the chance to win a signed, finished copy of The Weight Of Feathers! Guys. This is one opportunity you do not want to miss.
» Contest begins September 25th, 2015 and ends October 2nd, 2015
» Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada
» Prizes will be distributed by St. Martin’s Press and are not the responsibility of the blogger