Book Review: Like Wings, Your Hands

Note: This ARC was given to me by the author. It will be officially released by Ren Hen Press in October 2019.

Like Wings, Your Hands is unlike anything I’ve read before. Coming-of-age stories aren’t rare, but this is the first one I’ve encountered that was not only focused primarily on a disabled protagonist, but was also heavily philosophical. While I unfortunately can’t claim to love this book, it’s still one that I think everyone could benefit from at least taking a glance through.

The novel follows Marko, a fourteen-year-old boy who has spina bifida and is partially paralyzed, and his mother Kalina, a Bulgarian immigrant with a penchant for the spiritual aspects of life. Their relationship has always had its ups and downs, but once Marko becomes interested in his mother’s past, more stresses begin to appear. It reaches a boiling point when Marko learns about his mother’s estranged father and asks to visit him.

This is where the novel starts. From there we go back in time—to the beginning of Marko’s search, to Kalina’s arrival in America, and in some chapters, to her father’s past. Like Wings, Your Hands isn’t only Marko’s coming-of-age story, it’s his family’s as well.

Elizabeth Earley did a wonderful job at crafting the story and its characters. Everyone feels like a real, tangible figure that I could run into on the streets. As someone who is able-bodied and has no immediate relatives with a disability like Marko’s, I don’t feel right to speak in any great detail about how Marko’s disability is portrayed, but it never came across as negative.

One of the aspects that makes Earley’s characters feel so real, especially Kalina, is in fact how they process Marko’s disability and its effects. Human emotions are complicated, and being someone’s caretaker brings with it a whole other layer of complexity. As Earley has written about disability before, inspired by her own experiences, I am inclined to believe this portrayal was given extra attention and care.

For all these good points however, the unfortunate truth is that this novel didn’t do much for me. It’s not bad, it just wasn’t for me. The philosophical aspects, while interesting, didn’t grasp me, and as a result it took me longer to finish than I expected. The text feels dense, and for as realistic as the characters are, there were also times when I felt like they weren’t speaking as people, but philosophy textbooks.

Yet, now that I’ve read it, I may be able to better digest something similar to it in the future. This is where the difficulty in describing my final thoughts comes in: I didn’t hate Like Wings, Your Hands, but I think in another time, I might’ve liked it better.

I still can’t deny though that a familial coming-of-age story that focuses directly on disability, spirituality, and philosophy is a unique and interesting mix. It may have not been the book for me, but I already know there are others who will love this book to the moon and back.

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