A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
What's the story?
Seventeen-year-old Maia, adopted from Vietnam by affluent Caucasian parents, lives in early-'90s Seattle, where her whole life is focused on her piano studies and getting into a famous conservatory in New York. A chance meeting with Cass, a girl her own age who lives on the street, proves life-changing, and soon the formerly docile Maia has cut her hair, dyed it bright red, and joined Cass in a spree that starts with stealing the family Mercedes. The girls head down the coast in a blissful hedonistic adventure of booze, sex, and drugs, eventually getting mixed up with a rock band called Argo. Lurking in the background is a sinister figure who appears in both girls' dreams and seems to be pulling Maia toward the underworld.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the myth of the doomed rocker. What's the appeal of this theme? What other versions of the story do you know? Do you think it's romantic or stupid?
Does Dirty Wings make you want to learn more about '90s punk and grunge bands?
How does Dirty Wings retell the myth of Persephone? Do you think all the allusions from classical mythology improve the story or get in the way?
- Author: Sarah McCarry
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
- Publication date: July 15, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 18
- Number of pages: 289
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.