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The Anatomy of Wings

The Anatomy of Wings

3.1 14
by Karen Foxlee

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Ten-year-old Jennifer Day lives in a small mining town full of secrets. Trying to make sense of the sudden death of her teenage sister, Beth, she looks to the adult world around her for answers.

As she recounts the final months of Beth’s life, Jennifer sifts through the lies and the truth, but what she finds are mysteries, miracles, and more questions.


Ten-year-old Jennifer Day lives in a small mining town full of secrets. Trying to make sense of the sudden death of her teenage sister, Beth, she looks to the adult world around her for answers.

As she recounts the final months of Beth’s life, Jennifer sifts through the lies and the truth, but what she finds are mysteries, miracles, and more questions. Was Beth’s death an accident? Why couldn’t Jennifer—or anyone else—save her?

Through Jennifer’s eyes, we see one girl’s failure to cross the threshold into adulthood as her family slowly falls apart.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set in the author's native Australia in the early 1980s, this sensitive debut novel weaves and bobs between two time frames as the narrator, Jennifer, tries to understand the death of her older sister, 14-year-old Beth, who fell from a water tower. In the prevailing view, Beth was wild: she had sex with strangers and fell asleep, drunk, in neighbors' yards. But the girls' grandmother believes that Beth once saw an angel and had a bit of grace in her ever since, and that her acts were her attempts to save people. Jennifer sees evidence of both, remembering that "the more [Beth] glowed, the wilder she got." Trying to understand Beth's decline and to cope with her own grief, which has deprived her of her singing voice, Jennifer searches for clues in a box of Beth's belongings. Tangents may confuse; at times, the litany of small details and anecdotes burden the plot. But the metaphors embedded in the story and the luscious prose ( a teacher's eyes are "a flat gray-green and impenetrable as a crocodile's") will hold readers until the moving conclusion. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)

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School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–This complex novel explores the fragility of innocence and the existence of miracles in everyday life. Jenny, a prepubescent girl in an Australian mining town, retraces the last year of her teenage sister’s life in an effort to understand what appeared to be Beth’s descent into moral degradation but was perhaps actually her acceptance of martyrdom after seeing an angel. Told through Jenny’s naive and trusting voice, the narrative is nonetheless rich and languid, with the natural world awash in similes, the manmade world brimming with specific-pop culture references of 1980s Australia, and metaphors on nearly every page–of birds, fairies, winged insects, or angels. While Jenny’s voice evokes characters in classic preteen literature–Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die (Houghton, 1977) and Katharine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved (HarperCollins, 1980) come to mind–there is a truly adult sensibility to this story, especially in the brutality of the sexual situations in which Beth becomes involved, that recommends it to sophisticated readers. This is an unusually literary book that some readers will find deeply meaningful and beautiful, while others will roll their eyes at the preponderance of metaphorical imagery.–Rhona Campbell, Washington, DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Foxlee's debut novel (published in Australia in 2007) seeks answers to a sister's meaningless downfall and death on the cusp of adulthood. Narrated by an adult Jenny channeling her ten-year-old self, the novel arcs from her older sister's funeral back through the preceding year in their small Australian mining town and ends with the eventual, hope-filled beginnings of healing. Jenny's exploration is partially about Beth's life (sexual awakening, drinking, cigarettes) and partially her own search for her singing voice which has disappeared, clearly in response to the fracturing of her family. Whether Beth truly saw angels or thought sex would mend broken men remains unclear; Jenny's perspective means she fills in the blanks of her sister's life, as anyone must after a loss. Elegant, evocative writing set this apart from the rash of recent and forthcoming dead-sibling stories, but the young narrator, unfamiliar Australian terms and seemingly unnecessary recent-past setting (1983) will make this a hard sell to nearly any teen reader-although adult readers will rejoice in its elegiac beauty. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, January 1 & 15th, 2009:
“[A] shining debut . . . Foxlee captures the small ways that humans reveal themselves, the mysterious intensity of female adolescence, and the surreal quiet of a grieving house, which slowly and with astonishing resilience fills again with sound and music.”

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Years later when I go to the dry river everything is less than in my memories. The riverbed is narrower, there are fewer ghost gum trees. I remember an entire stand behind the sand track, or this is how it seemed. They were evenly spaced, each giant with its own territory of solitude. I remember the quiet. How there was only the sound of our footsteps on the fallen leaves, our voices in the stillness.

Now many of the trees are gone, fallen or cut down. There are more paddocks instead, the beginning of a new housing estate.

I walk in circles unable to find the place at first but our tree is still there.
When at last I find it I am surprised at the smallness of the marks we left. I kneel and run my fingers over our carved letters. All this time and the tree has kept them for us. It could have easily healed itself. The cuts were not deep. They were made only with children's hands.

Certain things were placed in the box. We were not supposed to touch them. No one said it but we felt it. It was the way our mother held the box to her chest as she walked along the hallway, protectively, as though it was a baby. She hid it from us in clear view.

Angela and I removed it from the top shelf of the linen closet. The door creaked. In the weeping house the only sound was our breathing in the silence that followed. Already, in the few weeks, a light layer of dust had settled over its lid.

It was Angela's idea. She said we needed to look inside to find my singing voice. It would help me to remember exactly when and how it happened that the words lodged in my chest quite close to my heart.

You'll never get it back unless you know why it went away, she said. She was full of ideas.

It was a simple blue cardboard box. I thought it would be heavy. I thought the weight of it would make my arms shake but it was light. The writing on the lid said in flowing white script carnegie elegant glassware. In blue ink in the right-hand corner was one more word. Darling.

My sister Danielle was sleeping when we entered the room. She was facing us with her knees drawn up. In those weeks all anyone did was sleep. Our house was like Sleeping Beauty's palace after the enchanted spell is cast. People slept on beds and on sofas. They closed their eyes in chairs with cups of sweetened tea in their hands. Mum slept with pills that Aunty Cheryl counted out into her hand and guided to her mouth. Dad slept on the floor between us with one arm slung across his eyes.
Angela and I sat on my bed with the box between us. She looked at Danielle sleeping and then at me, asking me with her eyes if it was all right. I shrugged. I didn't know what my mother would do if she found us with the box. I didn't know if she would sense it had been opened and leap from her bed and come running to find us. I didn't know what it would contain.

When I opened the lid the smell of fifty-cent-sized raindrops hitting dry earth escaped.

Angela opened her mouth into an O.

Up rose the scent of green-apple shampoo. Of river stones once the flood has gone. The taste of winter sky laced with sulfur fumes. A kiss beneath a white-hearted tree. A hot still day holding its breath.
We removed the contents one by one.

There were two blue plastic hair combs. A tough girl's black _rubber-_band bracelet. A newspaper advertisement for a secretarial school folded in half. A blond braid wrapped in gladwrap. A silver necklace with a half-a-broken-heart pendant. An address, written in a leftward-slanting hand, on a scrap of paper. Ballet shoes wrapped in laces.

From the box came the sound of bicycle tires humming on hot pavement. Of bare feet running through crackling grass. Of frantic fingers unstitching an embroidered flower. Of paper wings rising on a sudden wind. Of the lake breathing against the shore.

I didn't say anything. I kept very still. Danielle turned on her bed but kept sleeping.
"Somewhere in here," whispered Angela, "is the answer."

On the day of the funeral my nanna let the cat out of the bag about an angel and caused a great ruckus and then left squealing the tires on her beige Datsun Sunny. Even before that Kylie went ballistic and punched one of the Townsville twins on the nose. My singing voice disappeared long before then though the words to songs still ached inside my chest. I could feel them in my stomach and taste them in my mouth but they wouldn't come.

After the funeral the house was full of the rustling of black chiffon and the smell of Cedel hair spray holding up stiff French rolls and already wilting roses dropping petals onto the shag rug. The visitors pressed themselves against the living room walls and tried to drink their tea without clinking their cups and saucers. They used up all the air-conditioner coolness and sweated around their necks. Men undid their ties. Women pressed handkerchiefs to their foreheads. They used up all the oxygen. I could feel my lips turning blue.

Our mother was laid out on the sofa as still as a statue and surrounded by aunts. Her only movement was to occasionally blink her see-through blue eyes. Her long eyelashes hit her tearstained cheeks and caused a faint and momentary breeze.
In the middle of the room the nest of tables had been spread apart from smallest to largest like a set of stairs. On the lowest were jam drops with smooth skin and jelly eyes. The middle held a round unsliced tea cake. On the top step there was a host of fairy cakes, still-winged, standing on each other's shoulders.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

First-time novelist Karen Foxlee perfectly captures the essence of growing up in a small town and the complexities and absurdities of family life.

Karen Foxlee lives in Gympie, Australia. The Anatomy of Wings is her first novel.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Anatomy of Wings 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Her sister Beth is gone, and Jenny wants to understand why it all happened. At ten years old, she knows no one will tell her the truth, so she is determined to discover it for herself. Her search begins with a blue cardboard box. She plans to sift through the things Beth left behind and find clues to explain why Beth changed. There are ballet slippers, a broken heart pendant, black rubber-band bracelets, and an address. Jenny uses them to recall memories and events that led to her sister's death. Woven in among Jenny's memories are the struggles of the rest of the family. Some are part of the lies and deceit that contributed to Beth's downfall. Others are part of the efforts to stop her downward spiral. Their parents tried to control their wayward daughter when things began to head in the wrong direction. They tried to limit her activities and monitor her friendships, but Beth used Jenny and anyone else she could to concoct alibis that allowed her to carry on with her dangerous life. As in many stories with a mystery, Jenny stumbles across more questions than answers as her family crumbles around her. THE ANATOMY OF WINGS is the first novel for author Karen Foxlee. She shows great creative promise with her unique characters and fierce emotion. She captures the turmoil of those left behind after a tragedy, and the tremendous effort required to hold life together. Readers may find it challenging at times to separate the different threads of this complex story, but if they are up to the challenge, they will find Foxlee is an author to keep an eye on in the future.
lives_she_wrote More than 1 year ago
The Anatomy of Wings follows several stories of seemingly unimportant, but very special people. From young narrator Jennifer and the search to find her singing voice, to her older sister Beth and her constant changes that eventually lead to her death. There are several other characters included in the story, all of whom contribute to the plot in their own ways. Each character is incredibley real and you become so close to the characters. You can't stand it if something bad happens to them. The Anatomy of Wings also explores family drama and the way a children's growth can effect other people. My favorite thing about this book was the writing style. Karen Foxlee used exceptional imagery in her story. The seeminly undesirable town of Memorial became so beautiful to me. The descriptions were so simple but they pulled me in right away. You don't see description like that just anywhere. They're absolutely perfect. None of the descriptions are trying too hard. Karen Foxlee did everything right to make her audience "see" a place. I felt so alive during this book. I think you will too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This bis one of those books that really makes you think of what you have in your life. Thhis book latches onto your heart for some reason and makes you want to take it every where you go because it has touched your heart. This book made me want to tell every one I have ever hurt that I am sorty, and everone that I love that I love them. This book is a very good investment, bu I wouldn't recommend reafing it if you are in a sad mood or going through domething tough ( but if you're looking for a good cry, here ya go ;)). I simply loved it!! :)
PeaceWarrior More than 1 year ago
THE ANATOMY OF WINGS is an utter page turner. There is a huge emotional range present in this novel, which is totally relatable for normal teenagers (like myself!). The narrative is very languid but at the same time, is paced so that the reader won't get bored. The plot is about a pre-teen girl named Jenny whose teenage sister, Beth, died. When Jenny and her friend Angela are going through a box of her belongings they discover things about her that they never really knew, which explains the reasons behind Beth's mysterious death. As we get to know the character Beth, we simultaneously understand the thoughts and hopes of Jenny as well. I would like to warn potential readers that there are a number of graphic scenes in this novel and that the story is rather dark, so it's not really a feel-good novel (think "The Lovely Bones". Nonetheless, the refined writing style and overall texture of the book really amazed me-especially considering that this is Foxlee's first novel- and there are amazing deeper meanings that can be found between the lines, if you know where to look. I highly recommend this novel if you are mature enough to handle the bittersweetness that is prevalent througout. But it is a must read if you feel like reading something a little heavier.
alk93 More than 1 year ago
im assuming the review below meant to spell the word which, not "witch" but this book was incredible, not for a younger audience, it was so interesting, and throught provoking. definitely a good read.
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This book is just not that good. It jumps around between past and present tense and gets really confusing. I couldn't even get through it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some parts in this book were really good but most of the time it was painful to read. I would not buy it. But the ending was good.
yesIMateenandYESiread More than 1 year ago
alrighty then this book its not written well at all im not even done reading it and i hate it!!!!its in 1st person but the persons veiw is of a 10 year old girl witch makes it even worse, you dont learn the girls name until page 40something.............just dont by this book i wouldnt recomend it to anyone unless you were a younger reader