Title: Asta in the Wings
Author: Jan Elizabeth Watson
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 314
Malnourished and secluded from society, seven-year-old Asta and her brother Orion are at the mercy of their mentally ill mother. When their mom doesn’t come home one day, they find themselves thrown into the outside world quite suddenly and Asta and Orion are separated and sent to live with different people. Asta is bullied by her cousins and his desperate to be reunited with her mom, who is staying in a mental facility.
Asta and Orion are both great characters, quirky and funny and so smart despite their limited circumstances. Despite their mom’s obvious failings she did a good job educating them (I guess otherwise Asta’s narrative voice would have been much harder to write.) I wish there were more positive depictions of homeschooling but I understood why being homeschooled was important to the story.
I enjoyed reading about Asta and Orion’s shared imaginary world, it reminded me of my brother and I doing elaborate ‘plays’ as a kid. Their relationship is flawed but emotionally affecting and one of the best things in the book. I did feel like the author minimized the abuse Asta’s mother perpetrated on her children. She was essentially starving them and giving them regular doses of ipecac and Orion was so sick at the beginning of the book he could barely stand up.
Even though Asta narrates as an adult she never seems to see how horrific her circumstances were. Their situation felt romanticized and Asta never seems to realize how close to death she and her brother were. It reminded me of The Glass Castle. I wanted Asta to realize the extent of what her mother did to her so she could protect herself in the future.
That was the main thing I didn’t like about the book; the writing and character development were great and the storyline was engrossing. It reminded me a little bit of Room and like in Emma Donoghue’s book, the juxtaposition between the life of isolation and the introduction to the outside world was raw and emotionally arresting. Asta is a strong character but it’s one of those books where the first half is just much better than the second.