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Wingshooters, by Nina Revoyr.

June 29, 2013

Wingshooters, by Nina Revoyr.   New York : Akashic Books, c2011.


A perceptive novel about the impact of racial hatred in a rural Wisconsin town in the mid-1970s.

Nine-year-old Michelle has a Japanese mother and a white father.  When her parents’ marriage gets rough, she is left with her Wisconsin grandparents who love and protect her and try to soften her parents’ abandonment.   At school, in church and in the community at large, however, she faces continual rejection and harassment as a “Jap.”  When an African American couple arrives in town, she understands and sympathizes with the ugliness they face.  Her beloved grandfather and his friends, however, are openly hostile to the couple.  The crux of the story is about how their hatred grows into destructive fury, and others are hurt.

Like her narrator, Nina Revoyr has a Japanese mother and a white father.  After living with her parents in Japan, she stayed for a time left with her grandparents in a small, Wisconsin town.  As Revoyr explains, however, the rest of this story is truly fictional, not autobiographical.  None the less, her book displays the author’s fine understanding of how hatred can spawn tragedy in rural American.

Wingshooters is not a children’s book, despite its child narrator.  Goodreads labels it as YA, and it does contain a coming-of-age plot. But for me, however, this is an adult book about the damage adults can and often do cause.  By writing from the perspective of a nine-year-old, Revoyr explores the innocence we all too often assume when we don’t face the fact that a person we love is acting in destructive ways.   Michelle honored and trusted her grandfather, and by extension the men who were his friends and hunting buddies, the “wingshooters” of the title.   As the novel develops, she has to face his imperfections.  Equally important, he must reassess who he is and the damage he failed prevent. This book pushes us all to come of age.

Plot and characterizations in this novel are particularly well done.  The book starts calmly enough, even innocently, but the tension builds by degree until it becomes hard to stop reading.   Yet pain and tragedy are not all the novel contains.  This is another excellent novel about a child growing up in an atypical family, a growing reality for many children today.  I especially enjoyed the descriptions of Michelle exploring the countryside with her dog and the solace she found with her grandfather.

Wingshooters is set in a time when towns like Michelle’s still had no black residents.  White Americans were still comfortable speaking disparagingly about non-whites and resorting to violence to keep them out of their lives.  Revoyr is particularly skilled at describing this atmosphere and the assumptions of those who believed they had the right to deny the basic human rights of others.  At times, their belief in their right to total control of their own lives and families is almost appealing—and thus very chilling.  Her ability to show why people who are essentially good allow evil is relevant today, especially as the same rhetoric reappears today.  At times I felt the book was less historical than about the extreme supporters of the current Tea Party and the hateful climate they have produced in the United States.

Akashic Books provided me with a review copy of this book.  Thank you.

I strongly recommend Wingshooters as a fine novel that explores the damage hatred can cause in our communities.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2013 9:57 am

    A fine review. I daresay that the lessons of this book are still relevant today.

    • August 9, 2013 9:15 am

      Sadly, it is all too relevant today–at least in the USA.

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