Dirty Wings – Sarah McCarry

Dirty Wings – Sarah McCarry

18490688A gorgeous retelling of the Persephone myth, Sarah McCarry brings us the story of Cass and Maia–the mothers from All Our Pretty Songs–and how their fates became intertwined.

Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game.

Dirty Wings is an extension of All Our Pretty Songs as it shows us how Maia and Cass (the mothers in AOPS) met and became friends. While it’s technically a sequel, you don’t have to read them back-to-back; it would hold up as a standalone, but there are some “OH, I GET IT” moments that you’d only experience if you read both.

Once again, the prose is gorgeous, particularly during Maia’s sections when she describes her piano playing:

…she is the keys, the strings vibrating, she is the wood of the hammers falling and the brass of the pedals and the charged atoms of the air whirling past her, she is the waves of sound, she is articles bright and living, she is shattering and coming together, she is breathing the music, she is transcendent, she is divine.

Cass and Maia have such an intense relationship that, once Jason enters the scene, Cass’s feelings of fear and loss become palpable. It’s heartbreaking to see how she starts to unravel when she feels like Maia is slipping away from her, and the last couple of chapters piece together the puzzle of their relationship in All Our Pretty Songs.

I felt like this one was more obvious about which myth it was pulling from. There are some visuals that are associated with Persephone, such as the pomegranate, and there is the appearance of a dark, dream-like figure, who I’m guessing is Hades. You don’t have to know the myth to appreciate the allusions because they’re built in so flawlessly, they wouldn’t stand out if you weren’t looking for them.

Because it’s more literary fiction, not a whole lot happens, but the stuff that does happen is significant (I know that’s vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything!). This time around, the story is told in alternating chapters, “Then” and “Now”, and the deeper you get into the book, the more you see how they’re connected. There are some key moments that happen in “Now” that are relevant to All Our Pretty Songs, and it retroactively makes the first book clearer (if that makes sense) as you start to fill in the holes left by the unnamed narrator in AOPS.


3 interrobangs

3.5 interrobangs

All Our Pretty Songs – Sarah McCarry

All Our Pretty Songs – Sarah McCarry

17167090The first book in an exciting YA trilogy, this is the story of two best friends on the verge of a terrifying divide when they begin to encounter a cast of strange and mythical characters.

Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying.

And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while and I finally got around to picking it up. The eye-catching cover, the praise quote on the front comparing it to Neil Gaiman and Francesca Lia Block, the other praise quote that referred to it as a “punk-rock remix of the myth of Orpheus”…all those things appeal to me.

Let me start off by saying that comparing Sarah McCarry’s writing to a combination of Neil Gaiman and Francesca Lia Block is PERFECT. I read Block’s Weetzie Bat books a few years ago so I don’t remember the details very well, but as a Neil Gaiman fan, I can confirm that McCarry has mastered the sort of lyrical prose that can be half “this is gorgeous” and half “what the heck is going on?”.

It’s easy to fall in love with the words. Evocative descriptions and frank discussions of sex, drugs, and rock & roll abound, with our unnamed narrator lavishing poetry over her beautiful sister-friend Aurora and her boyfriend Jack.

All the best artists are selfish. .You can’t be good unless you care about the work more than you care about anything else.

I might not have necessarily picked it up if I hadn’t read a review that pointed it out, but the story takes place in the mid-1990’s, with the grunge/punk subcultures playing a huge role in the setting. As a result, it’s easy to draw comparisons between Aurora and Frances Bean Cobain (who I’m guessing was the inspiration for Aurora), but you don’t have to be a Nirvana fan to understand how messed up these girls’ lives become after Aurora’s father dies.

If this were the kind of story I want to be in, I’d flip back to the pages where all the words made sense and the ending wasn’t written yet.

It takes a while for the mythology to kick in. Most of the first half of the book is dedicated to day-to-day descriptions of Aurora and the narrator and how their relationship becomes more complex once the musician Jack enters the scene. At the same time that the narrator starts dating Jack, Aurora finds herself enthralled by a mysterious man named Minos. At that point, the book shifts into mythology and a world that is only hinted at before it blows up in the narrator’s unsuspecting face. I liked the way the mythology was built in, but I was hoping it would happen sooner or in a more obvious way.

I’m still not sure how to rate the book. In terms of prose and concept, it’s a solid four, but the meandering plot in the first three quarters left me wishing it would hurry up.


3 interrobangs

3.5 interrobangs