Beth Goobie,
Before Wings
(Orca, 2001)

Beth Goobie explores the territory between life and death in her haunting and luminous novel Before Wings.

Adrien, 15, survived a brain aneurysm at age 13, and in the two years since has become obsessed with her own mortality, aware that another aneurysm could strike at any moment. If that happens, she probably won't survive again.

She takes a job at Lakeshore, her aunt Erin's summer camp, and as the youngest staff member and the owner's niece, finds herself somewhat isolated from the other staff. She is friendly enough with her roommate Darcie, but she doesn't care for Connor, the self-appointed leader of the staff -- and he knows it.

Adrien is drawn to Paul Marchand, a boy close to her age who is part of the maintenance crew. He is as absorbed in the subject of death as is Adrien, having suffered for two years nightly visions of his own impending death -- dreams in which, oddly enough, Adrien has been present. Meanwhile, Adrien is also fascinated by the spirits of five teen-aged girls who seem to haunt the camp and who have some connection to Aunt Erin.

So much happens in a relatively short space of time, yet the plot never seems crowded. Each piece of the story fits into the others, but subtly. The images Goobie employs are equally subtle -- the short-lived mayflies, the use of light, lightning and electricity, the Wishing Tree that suffers a powerful injury yet survives -- all tie into the struggle Adrien faces in her choice between life and death.

Adrien is a remarkable character, at once tough and fragile. The relationship that grows between her and Paul shimmers with pure passion, and the reader knows that it's not just teen-age lust. There is a bond between them that runs deeper and connects them more tightly as each day passes.

Dying teenagers have always fascinated young adult readers, and Goobie catches this theme and raises it above the maudlin without becoming heavy-handed or sensational. Goobie's writing is very evocative; her descriptions and images resonate. The wing imagery is potent, and Goobie incorporates it naturally. Her characters are realistic and convincing with authentic emotions and reactions.

Before Wings is powerful, sensual, thought-provoking and most of all, refreshingly original. Read it and let your imagination fly free.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001

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