Monday, March 9, 2009

Nessie: A blog in which Amanda attempts the mesmerizing feat of creating an analogy between the Loch Ness Monster and Asta in the Wings.

Asta in the Wings by Jan Elizabeth Watson

I don’t know why I was expecting a story about a possessive mother keeping her children secluded in their house through fear to be funny. Because it wasn’t. Here, let me explain to you what it was like with the most convoluted approach that I can imagine: You know how the Loch Ness Monster is kind of creepy? There are those fuzzy pictures, and you can kind of imagine a Jaws-like scenario in which you are for some reason swimming in Loch Ness, and suddenly there is a giant form approaching you from underneath? Okay, so hold that thought while I remind you that the people of Loch Ness also refer to this creature of the deep as Nessie. It’s a cute, very non-aggressive, almost grandmotherly name. So which side do you think of first when you think of the Loch Ness Monster? I actually had this thought when reading Asta in the Wings. I think it was the bright pink cover with a cute girl embracing a wintry backdrop that maintained my first impression. Then as I got into the book and Asta, the seven-year-old that believes the outside world is contaminated with a horrible plague, it began to dawn on me that there’s probably more to this book than two siblings making their way out into a strange world. And this thought leads me to another: I also thought it was going to be more cute than realistic because of the childhood book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In it, a brother and sister run away to a museum. I don’t remember too much about it, just the idea of two kids living in a museum, buying food by stealing money out of the fountain, and generally getting along rather well on their own. Asta in the Wings is a grown-up take on this idea, but also so much more. You get hints of abuse early on: before Asta’s mother leaves for work, she inspects Asta for lumps or bumps. She thinks she finds a lump in Asta’s hip. Because of this (in one of the most quietly sinister scenes I have ever read), Asta’s mother cuts off all of Asta’s hair, supposedly in an attempt to rid her of the germs contained in it. But as much as the book gives off a disturbing vibe, there are poignant moments as well. Despite what most people would deem abuse, Asta loves her mother and her life very much. She and her brother have a touching relationship, and she doesn’t seem necessarily damaged by her childhood. But it is written from the perspective of a seven-year-old girl; events that transpire in her life make the reader cringe with worry, but she is not affected by them in the same way. It’s maddening and compelling, unsettling and often charming. It’s a book about perspective and realizing we can have two very different opinions about the same situation.

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