Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: Feathered

Laura Kasischke
2008; HarperTeen; 978-0-06-081317-8 (hardback)

Summary: It was the trip of a lifetime. Just not in the way they thought it would be.

Anne, Michelle, and Terri leave the drabness of Illinois in March for the sun and fun of Cancun during spring break. But questions of trust and friendship cause Anne and Michelle to enter into a nightmare.

Four Things to Know About Feathered

#1: Point of view matters.

Not only is this novel told in the alternating voices of Anne and Michelle, but the point of view shifts, with Anne's chapters in first person and Michelle's in third person. This choice by Kasischke pays large dividends; while Anne's struggles and concerns are vividly presented, Michelle's are less so. Yet due to the plot, this increases the tension and keeps the reader invested in the story. Admittedly, I haven't read every novel in existence, but I don't recall any other novel in multiple voices that also uses different POVs to underscore the different voices.

#2: Metaphors are not anvils.

Sadly, a major flaw in this work is how obvious Kasischke's central metaphor is: feathers/birds. It seems like every few pages, a reference is made to feathers, birds, plumage, etc.; I certainly grew tired of these references long before the end of the book. Given that two major dramatic moments in this book rely upon this metaphor, the over-use makes those moments less dramatic and more expected. If the author had referred to birds or feathers less often, or referred to them in a more impressionistic manner, perhaps those moments would have delivered the desired shock.

#3: Magic vs. realism

Where Kasischke's metaphor does work is to add a touch of magical realism to the work. A juxtaposition between reality and fantasy occurrs at various moments in the novel, such as when Michelle climbs to the top of a Mayan pyramid and becomes overcome with the beauty and emotion of the experience--so much so that she bursts into song. The bird metaphor allows for a poetic explanation as well as a scientific reason for Michelle's behavior in the later half of the novel. The magical realism aspects are subtle, but lend an evocative note to this novel.

#4: There are different ways to set boundaries.

Both Michelle and Anne's parents have instilled many rules within their daughters. Yet these rules do not protect them. Anne's worries about those rules, and the sensationalistic media reports about cases like Natalee Holloway, convince her to trust a group of teenage boys over a middle-aged man. This choice turns out to be horribly wrong. Instead of trusting her instincts and trusting Michelle, Anne follows the rules. This could lead to an interesting discussion about whether parents are actually giving girls the skills they need to make the right choices, or if they're just giving girls rules to follow. Such a thought puts larger issues than this novel--feminism, for example--into a new perspective.

Feathered will certainly be well-received by older teens. Less dramatic and more evocative than Acceleration by Graham McNamee, this is an intriguing mystery with much to recommend it.

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