03 March 2015

Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone

Summary from Goodreads:
From the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, which Library Journal called, “ripe for Oprah or fans of Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler,” comes a magical novel about a family of women separated by oceans, generations, and war, but connected by something much greater—the gift of wings.

On March 29, 1973, Prudence Eleanor Vilkas was born with a pair of wings molded to her back. Considered a birth defect, her wings were surgically removed, leaving only the ghost of them behind.

At fifteen years old, confused and unmoored, Prudence meets her long-estranged Lithuanian grandfather and discovers a miraculous lineage beating and pulsing with past Lithuanian bird-women, storytellers with wings dragging the dirt, survivors perched on radio towers, lovers lit up like fireworks, and heroes disguised as everyday men and women. Prudence sets forth on a quest to discover her ancestors, to grapple with wings that only one other person can see, and ultimately, to find out where she belongs.

Above Us Only Sky spans the 1863 January Uprising against Russian Tsarist rule in Eastern Europe to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Lithuania gaining its independence in 1991. It is a story of mutual understanding between the old and young; it is a love story; a story of survival, and most importantly a story about where we belong in the world. This “is a raw, beautiful, unforgettable book” (Lydia Netzer, bestselling author of Shine, Shine, Shine).

There are times when you read a book and it so completely consumes your emotions....I finished Michele Young-Stone's Above Us Only Sky at my desk, at work, at lunch, absolutely in tears.

The beauty of this novel is not in the sweep of history but in the story of a family who has survived against the backdrop of that history.  Surviving the Tsarist rule, surviving massacre by the Red Army in World War II, surviving the Nazi invasion, surviving emigration to the US, surviving Communist rule in Lithuania, and, in Prudence's case, surviving the loss of her wings.  For in the Vikas family, the women's wings grow throughout their lifetimes.  Prudence's relationship with her grandfather - discovered when she is 15 - helps her understand some of the emptiness and contributes to her study of ornithology.  She begins to understand her family history and how much has been lost, including, to her grandfather's belief, his youngest sister, Dania.  They make two trips back to Lithuania - once before the fall of the Berlin Wall, where they are shepherded by a Party official, and once after 1991 when they make a remarkable discovery.

I can't even put all this into a proper review.  It's such a beautiful knot of a novel.

Above Us Only Sky is a heart-wrenching story of music, loss, grief, separation, hope, and joy.  Read it.  Read it, read it, read it.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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