Friday, May 29, 2009

Asta in the Wings - Jan Watson

Asta in the Wings is written from the perspective of 7-year old Asta. She lives in a boarded up house with her older brother, Orion, and her mother. As her mother goes out into the world to work everyday, Asta and Orion stay inside, protected from the debilitating germs and disease their mother has warned them exists in the outside world. They sip at soup, remembering their mother's warning that too much food will make them ill. They have fantastic explanations for simple occurrences, and are the product of being hidden and molded by the mind of a mentally ill parent. When their mother fails to return home one day, Asta and Orion are forced out into society. Asta is placed with an aunt she never knew existed, while Orion goes to live in a different foster home. Other than being told that her mother is incapable of taking care of her, Asta is told nothing - in the hopes that she will simply forget the life she used to live. Instead, like any child, she tries to fill in the gaps with the explanations her mother once gave her. I found the writing of this book unsettling - it is from the perspective of a 7-year old who has not been exposed to the world, and while intelligent, simply does not know the meaning of relatively common words and objects. Yet, the book is written with complex language, as if the story is being told by an adult version of Asta looking back on herself. As first-person narration, I did not find this to be a believable account of the story as a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, which is complex on many levels, yet still seems to realistically portray Scout's experiences. Subject-matter-wise, this book is disturbing - it demonstrates the power parents have over their children - to shape and mold their world views - and the incredible responsibility that comes with that. But, it also focuses on the problems in our foster care system. Given Asta and Orion's upbringing, they were overly dependent on each other, more so than the usual sibling pair - yet, they were readily split up and given no information about the other person's whereabouts. The new adults in Asta's life believe not only that she can actually forget her mother, but that it would be a good thing for her to do so. A fundamental misunderstanding of the psychological impact of such actions is truly heartbreaking and frustrating. This book has no resolution, and as far as plot goes, I found it unsatisfying. But, as an exploration of the impact on children of being raised around mental illness and chaos, I found it quite compelling.

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