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Support structures and Wings

May 16, 2011

I was reading Wings, by Aprilynne Pike (see http://www.wingsfansite.com/, http://www.aprilynnepike.com/) and got to thinking about the resources that often seem to be available to adolescents in YA Lit…

In this novel (a lovely, coherent, easy read), the teenage protagonist, Laurel, discovers her body has started to change in frightening, poorly understood, unexpected and seemingly-unique-to-her ways (in this case, she is going through the standard adolescence of a faerie – but hadn’t actually known she was one until ‘puberty’ hit).  The metaphor is obvious but works well… what interested me was the range of social resources and skills that Laurel had available to her; always, it seemed, at just the right moment, a friend, reliable adult, social (adult) institution, or adult teaching was available to help the protagonist cope with adolescence.  This is just  a cursory impression, so it deserves a critical re-read, but:

There’s Tamani, the faerie sentry who finally exposes his presence and shares some of the knowledge he has of her situation… just at ‘that moment in her life’ when she needs to understand (180-185, etc)… (and in spite of what ‘the Queen‘ would say about it (NB p288))…

There’s David, the human friend at her new school, (and other love interest, who together with Tamani keeps the reader guessing a bit), who just happens to have his own microscope and knowledge of biology – which he uses to find out who/what she is…

There’s David’s mom, who just happens to be the kind who doesn’t interfere (which is lucky for Laurel who needs privacy when she’s with David, so that they can solve the mystery of her physiology/biology together) and who wisely insisted David keep a spare car key in the wheel well (p279)

There’s Laurel’s father, who just happens to have given Laurel one lesson on guns which helps her know what to do when she needs to use one in self-defense – and defense of Tamani…

There’s Chelsea, a secondary character, but friend, nonetheless, who just happens to have a love of all things faerie and ready access to the internet when these resources are needed by Laurel…  

There’s the biology teacher, who has imparted information of great use to Laurel and David…

The police are available, but then also unavailable, because of the very unique and private (faerie) nature of Laurel’s problems (NB p258)

There’s the librarian and the library… on which note, it also seems worth observing how often Laurel and David rely on formal, scholastic education to solve the mystery of her bodily changes (NB pp217+, for example)… is school supposed to help adolescents understand themselves and get comfortable with the changes that come with adulthood? I suppose so, but this emphasis on formal ‘literacy‘ and ‘school attendance’ as a prerequisite to ‘surviving adolescence’ is a little concerning…

Of course, the myths and fairy stories are there to help too (p290, etc)… the stories of King Arthur and Merlin turn out to be Laurel’s “history,” her “heritage” (p291) …but formal education matters…

There are, of course, also the faeries and their faerie magic, which can be used to undo the harm done to innocent bystanders one Laurel has completed her quest (331)…

I’m not saying these aids are unlikely – or even that they don’t work within the story – I’m just saying the protagonist herself doesn’t seem particularly agentic in accessing them.  The resources she needs are simply there for her when she needs them.  

Do adolescents in other YA novels have similarly ready access to resources that will aid them through adolescence?

Do adolescents ever actually have to work – hard – to gain these aids? Or are they a ‘natural’ part of the community around them?

Is society always this supportive of the adolescent’s path to adulthood in YA literature? (I’m thinking, as a contrast, for example, of Reinaldo Arenas’ Antes que anochezca…)

Relevance to other books?

Okay yep, so I was put in mind of Tycho and the scientific knowledge he uses to assist Angela in The Catalogue of the Universe… and I am now wondering how many similar ‘social resources’ appear at just the right moment in time (plot/adolescence) to help these protagonists, too…

Also, part way through the novel, Laurel starts to become comfortable with her new bodyshape (p172).  It is a sense of comfort that grows until, towards the end of the novel, we almost forget her original awkwardness.  At which point (very near the end), Laurel starts to take on the responsibility of mankind, as it were… well, actually, she takes on protective responsibility for her (human adoptive) ‘parents’ (330, 337+, 352, 353, 359), though there is a hint that she will be needed to defend the whole faerie kingdom – perhaps in a consequent novel (329)… It’s almost as if, now that the teenage protagonist has passed the test of biology, she is ready to take on the challenge of responsibility for othersDoes this shift from individual change/difficulty to social difficulty/change happen in other books?

Is it a sign of growing up that Laurel can look beyond herself?  

Is this a necessary ending?

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