“Lace knew the danger of touching a Corbeau. Her abuela said she’d be better off petting a rattlesnake.”
Title: The Weight of Feathers
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publication: September 15th 2015 by Thomas Dunne
Source: Publisher at ALA
For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.
Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.
Alright, I had no idea that this was a retelling of Romeo and Juliet when I started this book. But I can tell you this, it did not take me long to figure it out. We have two feuding families, a pair of star-crossed lovers, and some serious hate going on. There is even the mention of duels rather than fistfights – though those abound aplenty. The Weight of Feathers was a breathtakingly beautiful retelling of one of the most beloved Shakespeare plays of all time.
Now, I will be frank. I am not one of those who love Romeo and Juliet. I actually hate it. I hated the play when I read it in high school, I hated the 1968 version of the film, I hated the 1996 version of the film with Leonardo DiCaprio, and I hated the most recent version with Hailee Steinfeld. Don’t get me wrong here people, I absolutely love Shakespeare – this is just that one play I loathe. But, never fear! This book completely took everything I hate about Romeo and Juliet and threw it out the window.
The Weight of Feathers was beautiful, the only thing truly reminiscent of the play that shall no longer be named is the feud. The Corbeaus and the Palomas hate each other with a burning passion. They have tried to kill members in the past, they have beaten members near death, they have done everything in their respective powers to make the other family miserable. But, the best part? No one has any idea why. They hate each other, but no one has a clear reason. The Palomas think that the Corbeau’s murdered Lace, our protagonist’s, grandfather by using their “black magic” to sink in the ground and cause the lake they performed in to swallow everything in the forest. The Corbeaus believe that a Paloma was the reason for Cluck’s, our male protagonist, grandfather losing his job because of a rape allegation back in the day. So, basically: Palomas say one thing, Corbeaus say another.
The story starts off years into the feud, and this time, it deals with the younger generation. Luce Paloma has always wanted to be a sirena, one of the mermaids in her family’s show – and she is finally getting that chance (though it is soon ripped away from her due to outstanding circumstances). Cluck has never wanted to be a part of his family’s show, instead, he likes to work in the trailer making and repairing all of the costumes and wings. These two characters collide when Luce, on a run to get some midnight snacks, sees her cousins beating Cluck while he does nothing to defend himself. Insanity therefore ensues, and soon enough – Luce is cast out of her family and Cluck takes her in, not knowing who and what she is.
There is a very interesting aspect at play here, folks. Both of these families are magic. The Palomas can hold their breath underwater, love water unconditionally, have scales in random places, and they have unbelievable swimming abilities – they use these gifts to make themselves appear as mermaids to tourists. The Corbeaus grow feathers out of their hair, love heights and climbing, and they have unbelievable grace when they are up in the trees with heavy wings strapped to their backs. Both shows are described in detail and explored, as well as the magic inside both families, which I found to be very intriguing. This traveling show, gypsy sort of aspect brought a fresh feel to the old, court life style Romeo and Juliet.
As for the characters, I loved Cluck. I loved him, loved him, loved him. Get the picture yet? He was sweet, though he had unkind moments. He was gentle, he was caring, he was creative – he was everything you want in your perfect book boyfriend yet he was so much more all at the same time. He took Lace in, he let himself be burned in order to save her (minor spoiler), and he constantly defended her against his family at the expense of his health. He had no reason to do any of these things other than the fact that he strived to be a good man, and I loved him for that. Lace I wasn’t so sure about. I liked her, but I felt as though her dedication and loyalty to her family and wanting to swim as a sirena was misplaced – especially after her family throws her out for something she had no control over. I did like her too, but Cluck outshines at every turn – at least in my head he did. He wanted out of the family and the only thing keeping him was his Grandfather. Lace, on the other hand, desperately wanted to be a part of her family’s madness even after they throw her out. I will give her this, though, she was strong willed and wasn’t a pushover unless it came to her abuela.
I did have on problem with the novel, and that was the constant use of Spanish and French. Now, I took four years of Spanish so I could figure that out easily enough – at least in some parts. But the French? Lord help me. I had no idea what was being said. It wasn’t just small occasional phrases, it would be full on conversations, thoughts in Cluck’s head, etc. I felt extremely alienated by that. I don’t know if it was meant on purpose, but I just couldn’t get over it and I found myself struggling through certain parts of the story because of it.
Overall, The Weight of Feathers is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and mystically imaginative revamping of one of the oldest classics in our history. It will make you laugh, especially Cluck’s grandfather on American food. It will make you cry, it will make you scream, it will make you want to climb the nearest tree you can find and dance your heart out. If you were lucky enough, like myself, to get an advanced copy, you won the lottery. This book is gorgeous, and I will cherish it forever. Hell, maybe if I ever become a teacher I’ll use it to teach my students Romeo and Juliet instead.