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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Literary allusions abound, and readers who know their Greek mythology will recognize recurring themes and images -- for example, the Cyclops and the three-headed dog who appear in Cass' dreams. References to classical music are common, and Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit is intertwined with Maia's story. On a trip to New York, Maia's father goes on about the cultural attractions: "'The Algonquin is over there, too -- you know, the famous hotel, Dorothy Parker used to drink at the bar there, and all sorts of other people -- they were called the Round Table.'"
There pretty much aren't any positive messages, as the various characters lie, cheat, steal, drink, use drugs, and have sex on their ways to their particular dooms. There is much talk of "love," but it's almost inevitably possessive, needy, consuming, and destructive.
Positive Role Models
Almost without exception, characters range from ineffectual with a hidden agenda to overtly toxic -- and that's before the beings from the underworld enter the picture. The closest thing to positive characters are Cass' fellow residents of a Seattle squat: "She loves them, to be sure. They've kept her safe and fed and watched her back. The squat is like a family, riddled with squabbles and bad blood and old grievances, but at the end of the day they take care of each other. They share what they have, split their food stamps, aren't stingy with their drugs or their booze. Cass fell into them, and they caught her. Brought her back to their derelict manor and welcomed her in."
Violence & Scariness
One of the characters is being stalked by a sinister character from the underworld, who seems to want to snatch other characters to take to his dark kingdom.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's a lot of casual sex, most of it out of view; the scenes involving more significant encounters are intense but not graphic. In one scene, the girls kiss passionately, and there are strong hints throughout that their friendship takes a sexual turn, even as they get it on with various boys.
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Abundant, gleeful use of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "whore," "ass," and "dick" as part of several characters' routine conversations. "F--k my mother!" is a particular favorite of a central character.
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Products & Purchases
The story is set in the early '90s; some products mentioned, from Chanel No. 5 to Corn Nuts and Doc Martens, still exist today. Most of the bands in the story are fictitious, but characters wear T-shirts from New Order, Crass, and other punk bands.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Protagonists Cass and Maia, both 17, consume a variety of mind-altering and/or performance-enhancing substances, with a particular fondness for speed. One of Cass' friends blames her weird dreams and visions on drugs rather than a "gift." One character takes speed before an important test, aces it, and mouths off to the test administrators. The story begins with Cass stealing beer by putting it in Maia's school bag. A plot thread involves witchcraft, spells, and dark forces inhabiting the blurry corners of the characters' druggy world.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dirty Wings, which takes its name from a Nirvana lyric that's a rapist's monologue, has been billed as the anti-The Fault in Our Stars, with plenty of sordid darkness and despair surrounding its 17-year-old protagonists. The middle volume in Sarah McCarry's loosely connected trilogy, it serves as a prequel to All Our Pretty Songs and sets up the forthcoming finale, About a Girl, in a story arc following three generations of characters. Evoking and celebrating the downward spiral of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll that led to Kurt Cobain's death, Dirty Wings follows two 17-year-old Seattle runaways in the early '90s who steal, drink, do drugs, and have sex with random guys (and, by implication, each other) as they flee down the coast. They're haunted by dreams of scary, black-clad spirit figures, and they're on a collision course with a feckless but talented rocker named Jason, who's about to change their lives. Profane and often overwrought, McCarry's writing is frequently compelling in its snarky dialogue and descriptions of music-fueled ecstasy. Given the broken characters in such a toxic universe, this is best for mature teens.
Is It Any Good?
Author McCarry has a fine ear for snarky hipster dialogue and uses it well to define her characters. Told in flash-forward and flashback in alternating chapters, DIRTY WINGS is clearly part of a larger story, serving to define the history, the characters, and the forces behind the events in Book 1 and Book 3, all of which show a fondness for Nirvana and Greek mythology.
Although sometimes overly purple, her descriptions of popular music's soul-and-body-shaking effects will strike a chord with many a teen whose life was saved by rock 'n' roll -- though these particular characters are racing headlong toward doom and self-destruction.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.