Rating: Decent + 5 Scoops
Some months back, a couple of weeks after I'd finished this book, a student who was new to the youth group remarked that she always wears a jacket because she's constantly cold. I then asked if she was anemic and she said that it was her security blanket...that it protected her from many things. Being extremely thin, I wondered if she was self-conscious of her body or was she possibly hiding/shielding herself from somebody or somebodies; however, we were interrupted before I could question her further. Not only did this conversation call up images of Linus from Peanuts dragging his blue blanket—which could morph into various objects when needed, such as a lasso or shepherd's head covering—everywhere, but it also caused me to think of Wendy Redbird Dancing with Michael Jackson, greasy hair, and kohl eyeliner as her security blankets.
First off, the beautiful cover drew me to this book. The red, old-fashioned, worn-looking diary and sideways glance of the black-lined eyes peeking out from under a gray hoodie conveyed pages of juicy secrets. Though after reading the premise, I realized it was less juicy secrets and more of a series of events unfolding between the pages of the diary.
It took me awhile to get into the book, but I kept pushing. Wendy is snarky, sarcastic, bright, a Michael Jackson fanatic, and a semi-loner. As the story progresses, I learned why Wendy loves the King of Pop, lives by certain routines, and why she's obsessed with sets of four, specifically the number sixteen. While reading, I had mixed feelings about the story and wasn't quite sure how I felt about it. It wasn't that the writing was bad, on the contrary, it's good actually, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. The story was sad, depressing, plus Wendy's elevation of MJ to a god made me slightly uncomfortable, although I understand her idolization. She lives an unstable home life, parented by her irresponsible, hippie mother Sunny, who chases men to irritate her rigid, unemotional mother, and MJ is the only one that gets her and is able to voice all that she feels through his music.
I liked that Tanay in befriending Wendy becomes her support and in a sense her solid foundation. Through visits to Tanay's home, Wendy sees what parental support, love, and acceptance looks like—familial love unpolluted of toxic relationships. I liked that Tanay's and Wendy's friendship mirrored reality. Their friendship hit a rough patch and ultimately they were able to get through it together and save each other in the process. I liked Andrew, even though his character wasn't fully developed. Deanna Faire is your standard one-dimensional, popular, beautiful, mean girl. She experiences zero character growth and Hawks missed a great opportunity to show a little growth at the end during her confrontation with Wendy.
Certainly Wendy's character is the most developed, however, Wendy's grandmother and mother are both critical to the plot. Within the story, lies three generations of women who have each adopted coping mechanisms to make it day-to-day. While Wendy is somewhere in the middle, her mother and grandmother are on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas Wendy's god is Michael Jackson, her mom—stuck in the rebelliousness of her youth still bucks against the confines of societal expectations—delights in the abundance of male companionship, and her grandmother dives into the comforting familiarity of strict, religious structure, in addition to indulging in alcohol and cigarettes. I love how Wendy is determined to take back her power and eventually reclaims herself. Despite the melancholy and somber tone of the book, it ends on a hopeful note.
Goodreads Summary: At sixteen, Wendy Redbird Dancing flies her freak flag high; she’s a scary-smart white girl with a hippie mom, a missing father, and a rarefied Michael Jackson obsession. It doesn’t help that her mother just uprooted them yet again, this time from California to North Carolina. Now Wendy has to survive a new school and fight bullies who rule this Southern roost.
But one black girl reaches out—Tanay—and she and Wendy forge a friendship to help her fight back. Her mother’s new boyfriend, Shaye, turns out to be decent—not the usual sleaze, but instead, a charming and attractive guy. As he gains her trust, Wendy’s crush ignites, and her hopes for a stable future soar.
When Shaye starts flirting, Wendy is flattered but confused. When things take a terrible turn, she must go underground, waiting for the day she can escape to London for Jackson’s final tour. All seems lost when the King of Pop dies. But Wendy suddenly hears his ethereal voice, offering guidance and sending her west. Is St. Michael now the only one she can trust?
**I won a copy of this book in a promotional giveaway.