Confession time–I have been terrible about writing my reviews and actually finished this book weeks ago. I even had a great quote I wanted to use in my review, but it was an e-book borrowed from the library, so I don’t even have access to it anymore. In my defense, my husband and I are in the process of buying our first house and I’ve been slammed at work. But, on to the review …
Wingshooters tells the story of a young half-Japanese, half-American girl being raised by her grandparents in rural Wisconsin in the 1970s. The story begins soon after the girl, Michelle, has been left with her paternal grandparents by her father, who is ostensibly going to look for her mother who has left the family but he actually just seems to be deadbeating around the country avoiding any type of responsibility whatsoever. Soon after Michelle’s arrival, the first black couple moves into town. The wife is a nurse and the husband is a teacher. While the novel is largely concerned with the racism faced by the Garretts, there is also a strong undertone of class issues particularly since the Garretts move was precipitated by Mrs. Garrett being hired to essentially run a clinic providing healthcare services to the poorest residents (in the view of many of the townspeople, they’re not just negroes, they’re uppity negroes). Michelle is drawn to the Garretts as they are all outsiders in the community–although Michelle’s presence is at least begrudgingly tolerated because of her grandparents’ standing in the community. Michelle’s connection to the Garretts also goes beyond just their outsider status as she views them as somewhat of parental surrogates.
The book also tackles issues of loyalty and friendship. Michelle’s grandfather is one of a group of men (somewhat like the town elders) who drink and hunt together. While they initially seem to be a united front, they do disagree as to whether the Garretts belong in their town and what, if anything, should be done to try to force them out. There is also a deep disagreement among the group when one of them is accused of physically abusing his son, which accusations dovetail into the Garretts’ part of the story as they (as a nurse and teacher) witness the effects of the abuse. It is clear from almost the beginning of the book that something terrible is eventually going to happen. Revoyr does a great job of building this underlying dread even when what is happening in the story is otherwise happy. The terrible thing does eventually happen, but it plays out a bit differently than I expected and remains powerful despite its foreshadowing.
The most interesting part of Wingshooters, however, is the relationship between Michelle and her grandfather. Her grandfather obviously loves her and dotes on her, but it is equally obvious that if she was not part of his family he would believe that she did not belong in his town due to being half Japanese. For example, while her grandfather does not believe that the Garretts should be forcibly run out of town (as do some of his friends), he does believe that they should be ostracized to the point where they have no choice but to leave. Similarly, her grandfather does not make any outwardly disparaging remarks about Michelle being half Japanese, instead, he just does not acknowledge it. Despite Michelle having lived in Japan for years, not once in the book does her grandfather ever ask her anything about that experience. The relationship between Michelle and her grandfather is also inextricably linked to his failed relationship with his son (her father) and at times he appears to treat Michelle as if she is essentially a “do over” of raising his son.
Something that I think really worked in this book is that it is told from Michelle’s perspective as a young child but also includes some of her insights looking back as an adult. For example, while her grandfather’s refusal to acknowledge half her heritage is obvious from an adult perspective, she did not necessarily notice it as a child, particularly as it appears that living with her grandparents was the first time she was in a loving, stable home situation. Adult Michelle, however, does not offer any pat answers as to how she views her grandfather. She is scarred by what happened and by the realization of her grandfather’s racism towards her; however, she also talks about the positive ways in which he shaped her life.