Michelle Young-Stone
Above Us Only Sky

Michelle Young-Stone's Above Us Only Sky is a lyrical novel about family history and ethnic identity told through the magical realist plot-line of women born with wings. The narrative involves multiple points of view and jumps between eras, but at heart it is the story of Prudence, a Lithuanian American, whose wings were surgically removed at birth. The storyline opens with Prudence in her thirties hearing about the serious collapse of health in her Lithuanian grandfather, but then flips back to her childhood friendship with an autistic spectrum boy Wheaton. There are further flip backs to the story of the family's connections to a Lithuanian independence struggle against Russia in the 19th century, as well the situation of World War One and World War Two, the pre-revolution situation in 1989, and post-independence in 1992. As the story flips back it sometimes returns to the narrative's present in 2005, but more often than not to another era.

This Simon and Schuster published book is definitely aiming for the literary award category, although a major red flag is depicting a minor character as aspiring to write the Great American Novel. The novel reads like it is trying too hard to find a clever turn of phrase and in such cases it is unwise to invoke Great American Novel aspirations, especially early in the narrative, as it sets the reader's pretentiousness radar on full alert. The style is at times over-written, but still quite readable. The main stylistic problem is the jumping around historically and the info dumps that occur from time to time. Young-Stone would be advised to iron out those foibles before making a shot at Great American Novel hints.

The women with wings motif is under-played for most of the novel and the narrative could have worked without the magical realism. This means that some magical realism fans will be disappointed in the book, while fans of family sagas will be turned off by the blurb from a story they may have enjoyed. The narrative is essentially one of a Lithuanian American coming to terms with her ethnic identity in the context of a family saga and if that appeals you will probably enjoy the book and not become too distracted by the infrequent wing mentions. If you are attracted to a magical realism than borders on urban fantasy then you should look elsewhere.

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