It’s been a lot of years since I was pregnant and awaiting the birth of a baby (which ended up being, well, two babies, when I was surprised with twins). And I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), so I’m out of practice with this waiting-for-something-to-be-born business. I had a taste of it five years ago when I published my first book, Hands at Work, and I’m feeling it again as I wait for the “birth” of a friend’s new book—Gretchen Wing’s young adult/middle grade novel, The Flying Burgowski—Book One of the Flying Burgowski Trilogy.
Gretchen describes her novel as “magical realism for kids,” and that category fits. Literary critic Patrick Kennedy defines this genre as “…a manner of writing that combines precise historical, social, and psychological observations (the material of traditional ‘realism’) with elements of fantasy, surreal descriptions, and dreamlike touches.” Magical realism is associated with Latin American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Isabel Allende. And then there’s J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, which happens to be the literary obsession of Jocelyn Burgowski, the main character in Gretchen’s book.
When Jocelyn discovers on her fourteenth birthday that she can fly, this superpower opens a whole new messy horizon. She struggles to keep her flying a secret while rescuing her troubled mother, two challenging tasks for a teen living on a small, remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the book, Jocelyn wrestles with a dilemma: must she give up her powers to save her mom, or can she use them to heal the damage of her mother’s own secret?
The Flying Burgowski offers a rich cast of characters, vivid settings, and dramatic scenes to explore real-world “horrors” like substance dependency, sexual assault, racism, and homophobia. “Books are the safest place for kids to process their thoughts about these issues,” Gretchen says, and she handles them delicately—just right for the adolescent readers she hopes to reach.
|Gretchen Wing, author|
A high school English and history teacher for twenty years, Gretchen understands her audience well. She used to push her students to find their voices through writing, and to pay attention to the voices of others through reading. In The Flying Burgowski, Gretchen has applied that same passion to Jocelyn’s story, that of a girl who needs empowerment and finds it, not in magic as she hopes, but in herself.
I first met Gretchen at the local bakery and struck up a conversation about the Carolina Friends Schoolt-shirt she was wearing. Turns out, she not only attended the Quaker school in North Carolina, but her folks, Martha and Peter Klopfer, are the school’s co-founders. Now, Gretchen and I are in a writing group that meets weekly. Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed getting to know her, her writing, and how Quaker testimonies permeate her creative work. I wrote about her Musical Essays in October 2013, soon after she was interviewed on Northern Spirit Radio’s Song of the Soul.
Any day I’m expecting a “birth announcement” from Gretchen. Until then, I’m calling on a little magical realism to help the time pass quickly as I wait for The Flying Burgowski – and her siblings – to arrive.