Monday, June 29, 2009

Poisoned Rationality Special Edition! (4)

Poisoned Rationality Special Edition

Welcome to another Poisoned Rationality Special Edition! Today we have Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings answering some questions after my review of Wings so please stay tuned!

: The Importance of Wings
Author(s): Robin Friedman
Genre: Young Adult, Middle-Grade
Publisher/Year: Charlesbridge/2009
-Webpage: Robin Friedman

Synopsis: With their mother caring for relatives in Israel and their father driving a cab all hours of the day, Roxanne and her sister, Gayle, spend a lot of time watching television reruns of Little House on the Prairie, The Brady Bunch, and Wonder Woman perfect examples of perfect Americans. Roxanne is desperate to be like them. When Liat, a fellow Israeli, moves into the Cursed House next door, things begin to change and Roxanne realizes that maybe real life isnt like TV maybe its even better. The novel is set on Staten Island, New York, in the early 1980s.

Review: My first thought while reading this was that its written in such a 'now' way that it didn't feel as if it was the early 1980's. Other then some topical news mentions, this book could have been set today (2009) instead of nearly 30 years ago. Robin Friedman mentions in a blurb in the back of the book that she purposely set the novel in the 80's for several reasons--1) because she grew up in the 80's, 2) to avoid the whole 'technology' evolution with new tech always being introduced and 3) the post 9/11 world makes any story set about Israel or the Middle East complex, so she wanted to show that at one time the complex was a little more simple.

I've never had to worry about not fitting in because of a difference in race or religious creed, it's just always been a matter of course for me to want to be different. The other girls didn't want to read, I did, so well guess I'll be different then. The need that Roxanne feels to be as American as possible--going as far as to change her name so it sounds more anglicized and devoting most of her free time to watching The Brady Bunch, Little House on the Prairie and shows like that depicting what a 'true American' family or girl was supposed to be like...I've never felt that. But reading about her insecurities, her all-encompassing fear of being left behind and considered uncool, I could relate with those feelings. Who hasn't felt like that at one time or another? Even the most confident person has doubts--they might not show them, or admit them, but they do.

I wanted so much for Roxanne to be accepted, but like her, once I met Liat I began to see a different way for her to belong. She could be Israeli and American at the same time, melding the two cultures together to make a more complete version of who she was. I did question her common sense though, especially her taste in crushes. But that could easily be blamed upon her obsession with being 'All American'. I don't think her crush reflected badly on who she was, but rather who she wanted to be.

The book feels slow in some passages and in others too quick (such as Roxanne's change of heart), so that led to some uneven reading at times. Since this is told from Roxanne's first person POV in the present tense, we don't get a real sense of what others are thinking. I would have liked to know what Liat was thinking at times, because sometimes it felt like she was just putting up with Roxanne and other times as if she really cared. I think she was exasperated with her often, especially whenever Roxanne would make a silly or insensitive comment about their own customs.

The title itself refers to a certain hairstyle from that era, but also to Roxanne's change in attitude. 'Wings' was the quintessential meaning of being an All-American girl to Roxanne and she felt that having the hairstyle was the most important thing in the world to her. With one remark Liat gives her such a hard metaphorical slap in the face that I could feel the sting. I didn't blame Liat for that though--Roxanne's remark was careless and ill-timed given the events before.

All in all I enjoyed reading The Importance of Wings--it was a different style for me, a different author in fact, but I'm glad that I had this chance. Roxanne reminded me of myself more often then not when I was her age--so desperate to be anything but what and who I was, just to escape the uncomfortable realities of the world around me.

Special Treat: Interview with Author Robin Friedman

Liat is the catalyst that makes your protagonist Roxanne change how she views everything--do think that Roxanne might have changed on her own, given time or was it because she saw that you can be different, but also cool, that sparked the transformation?

I hate to think Roxanne would’ve never changed views on her own, because that would violate my own personal philosophy of the most profound change coming from within us. It does take time, though, sometimes a lifetime! So, yes, I think Roxanne would’ve eventually come to the same place in time all by herself. Liat, however, is the kind of catalyst that is the stuff of stories, which is why I so love her entrance into Roxanne’s life.

You touch briefly on how American Jewish people and Israeli Jewish people regard their faith and religious obligations. Growing up did you have to explain to outsiders the difference very often?

I grew up in an environment very much like Roxanne’s (in fact, it was Staten Island in the 1980s, being that this story is partly autobiographical), so our neighbors tended to be Irish and Italian. Even today, being Israeli versus being Jewish can be a bit confusing, but I always find it flattering to be asked about it, and am happy to discuss it. It’s never been a bother for me.

The Brady Bunch, Wonder Woman, Little House on the Prairie, these are all shows that Roxanne loves and compares the world around her to. The unrealistic portrayal of American Life and families being the predominant factor that ties them all together. Now in this new age where family based dramas have taken on a darker edge, tackling circumstances and conflicts that border on the ridiculous--do you think that this new age of media is in response to the sugary sweetness of the The Brady Bunch and such? Or in response to the way that Americans view the typical family dynamic?

That’s a great question! I think both are true. I think today’s media mirrors the seemingly darker, edgier world of today; I also think it’s a rebellion of sorts against the wholesomeness of yesterday. One influences the other, certainly, but it’s sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Slang, trends, fashion, etc., can come from the media or be reflected in the media from real life, and vice versa. I have to say, though, that while darker material (especially in books) is something I enjoy exploring, I think too much bleakness can start eroding our collective feeling of security. It can make us cynical, which I don’t think is healthy. That’s why happier, uplifting material (whether in books, media, or even politics) can often capture people’s hearts, making them feel more optimistic, which we sometimes need to feel better about our future.

Wings reads in a present tense first person narrative from Roxanne’s POV, and from my reading, made me connect to Roxanne better because I could clearly remember undressing for gym class, or having a fruitless crush on a boy or any number of things that Roxanne goes through. Was there ever a time you considered a different structure to the story?

All of my novels are written in first person present tense! I guess that’s where my writing naturally gravitates, though I’d love to try something different at some point.

The right kind of food is important to Roxanne--in one scene her and her sister Gayle are drooling over what they consider to be the quintessential American food--cupcakes, hot dogs, Doritos--but as Roxanne becomes more comfortable with her duality she begins to alter her food tastes as well. Was this on purpose, or did it evolve naturally as you wrote about Roxanne’s growth?

I’m a huge foodie, so food always plays a big role in my books! I also love to cook and bake, so these two hobbies always seem to sneak into my writing. Plus, I think food is a great reflection of cultural tastes.

5 Quick Questions!

Cake or pie? Pie, but that’s a close one!

Congressional ban on gym class--yes or no? Definitely!

Best improvement from the 80’s? Hairspray is a no-no today.

Favorite show? The old LOVE BOAT – seriously. It was lovely to watch, from the sunsets on the ocean to the sparkle of the women’s gowns!

Book you’re currently reading? The Maze Runner by James Dashner, who shares an agent with me.

Thank you Robin for answering my questions! And seriously, gym class should be considered cruel and unusual punishment--how can they possibly still allow it in schools? In some countries I'm sure it can be considered a form of mental torture! The Importance of Wings comes out July 1st--so hurry and make sure to find yourself a copy and find out more about Robin's other YA/MG books, interviews and articles at her website Robin Friedman: Author, Journalist and Jersey Girl! Jersey representing!