*This review will contain spoilers!*
'I've never, ever seen a model who looks anything like me. Not black, not Chinese, certainly not white.'
'My first memory is of my brother.'Wing's family is the most important thing to her, and that's obvious from this first line. She's the protagonist - the titular character! - but she wants to tell the readers about her big brother Marcus, not about herself.
Wing Jones is a fifteen-year-old half Chinese, half Ghanaian girl living in Atlanta in 1995, who starts running after her brother makes a terrible mistake.
Marcus has always been the golden boy. He's the school's best soccer player, destined for greatness, sure to get a scholarship. His sporting prowess means he's popular, constantly surrounded by friends, including his girlfriend Monica and best friend Aaron, the boy Wing has had a crush on for as long as she can remember.
Marcus can do anything he wants, be anyone he wants.
But Wing is different. Where their mixed heritage expresses itself as 'exotic' in Marcus, Wing is big. She's big-boned, too tall, with a large ass to boot.
'I don't remember the last time I went to the mall. I hate the way the mannequins stare at me. I feel like they're judging, telling me I won't fit into what they're wearing, and even if I could, it wouldn't look good.'She doesn't have many friends, and she's always getting average grades. The only thing that stands out about Wing is the way she looks, and that means her classmates often use her as a verbal punching bag.
Until Marcus gets drunk at a party and decides to drive anyway.
He runs a red light and crashes into a young mother driving home, killing her and Michael, one of his passengers. Marcus is badly injured: as well as sustaining broken ribs and a broken leg, he's in a coma. Things don't look good for him.
Understandably, Wing is distraught. Marcus's reputation is destroyed, and though she didn't think it was possible she's now treated like even more of an outsider. So she starts running.
It gives her something to focus on, and she feels as though it's helping Marcus: every step she takes is another beat his heart will take. He'll be so proud when he wakes up and realises that his little sister is good at something. She might even challenge him to a race, and Marcus can't resist a competition.
Aaron catches Wing down at the track one night. He can tell she has a talent and convinces her to try out for the team. They start running together every night, and she beings to wonder if he might have feelings for her, too.
Wing has always been happier fading into the background, hiding in Marcus's shadow. Will his accident give her the courage to shine, or will she convince Aaron to keep her running a secret?
This could be the perfect standalone.
The focus is on one aspect of the larger story: Wing's running. We follow her through the catalyst that makes her decide to start running, her struggle when deciding whether to go public with her abilities, her fight to be accepted as part of the team despite her bigger size and different skin colour.
But the book ends with a large part of the story untold.
We don't know how long Marcus has to go to prison for his manslaughter conviction, or whether the accident will have long lasting effects on his physical and mental health. We don't know if Monica will be strong enough to stay in a relationship with him despite the pressure from her family and the knowledge of what he did looming over them.
Wing wins the Riveo Running Girl competition, but how will she deal with the pressure of having the eyes of the world upon her? Will the prize money be enough to pay off all of Marcus's medical bills, or will their financial struggle continue?
That's what makes it such a success. Instead of wrapping everything up, Katherine leaves so much unfinished. It makes the story stick in your mind, but not in an unsatisfying way. The story that was being told, Wing's discovery of running, is finished. If she had tried to write a conclusion giving away all of the answers, it would have been rushed and would have detracted from the impact of the rest of the story. I want a sequel, and the best standalones make you feel like that: they have such well-developed and lovable characters that you're desperate to follow them further in their lives.
I can't get over how amazing this book is. I read it over two bus journeys, but when I got to my destination I couldn't stop thinking about Wing and wanting to know what happened to her. As soon as I finished it I just wanted to start it again.
The major thing is: I didn't see Marcus's car crash coming. It starts the plot but it was an absolute shock because I was enjoying the story so much without any tension. I was already rooting for Wing and Aaron and I wanted to know what was coming between Marcus and Monica. Katherine Webber made a plot within the first fifty pages, but by taking the story in a completely different direction she pushed herself. I often get bored when it doesn't seem like anything is happening, but I was enjoying just spending a night out eating waffles with these characters.
I loved Wing. I loved her ruminations on her ethnicity, on her size, on her family. I want her to be my best friend, and I want her to be the protagonist of every book I ever read: it would make them all much more enjoyable.
I'm so glad that the #SundayYA book club chose this book. When books are this hyped I always avoid reading them because I presume I'm going to end up being disappointed, but the exact opposite happened in this case.
I need Katherine Webber to write at least 100 more books, because I'm never going to be able to get enough of her writing style. Everyone should read this, and I do mean EVERYONE.