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Before Wings

by Beth Goobie

In Beth Goobie’s latest novel, Before Wings, 15-year-old Adrien struggles with the aftermath of a brain aneurysm. Numb with fear of “the Big One” that doctors predict will finish her off, she entombs herself in a mausoleum of negativity, impregnable to everyone. Her defenses start to crumble after her aunt, director of a summer camp, sets Adrien to work in her tuck shop.

Goobie’s characters are utterly believable, not only the tough, morose Aunt Erin, who is pushing 40, but also the teenagers. Adrien is a complicated character, sarcastic, yet vulnerable and brave. Paul, the clairvoyant boy who falls for Adrien, is true-to-life in his confused passion. Darcie, Adrien’s warm-hearted roommate, is a realistic example of a decent person led astray by peer pressure. The only disappointment is the camp bully, Connor, whose forays into violence seem undermotivated.

Goobie’s style is assured and flexible. She masters both the edgy, abbreviated repartee of teenagers and a lyrical prose style for describing mystical experience. Her apt image of the mayfly, which prepares all its life for two days of joyous flight before death, is fully developed and sustained.

In her tour-de-force structure, Goobie seamlessly shifts from Adrien’s power struggles with Connor and her growing bonds with Paul and Darcie to her window onto the past, through which she watches five girls her own age experiencing camp in the 1970s. These vivid, girlish spirits combine with Paul’s attentions and Darcie’s friendship to rekindle Adrien’s lust for life; she passes the flame to her aunt, who’s recovering from a 20-year-old tragedy.

Rarely sentimental, Beth Goobie plumbs her chief theme, death, with humour and variety, reminding us that “the greatest tragedy wasn’t how you died, but how you lived your life.”