The Importance of Wings
By: Robin Friedman
It’s the 1980s and your feathered hair can make you or break you.
Roxanne just wants to be a normal American girl with a normal American family. But with her mother back in Israel and her father working long hours as a cab driver in Manhattan, there are no family dinners, no help with schoolwork, and no shopping for cool clothes. And forget about feathered wings—Roxanne’s droopy brown hair practically screams SPAZZ.
Roxanne’s favorite part of the day is watching television reruns after school: Little House on the Prairie, The Brady Bunch, and especially Wonder Woman. They’re all perfect examples of perfect Americans, and Roxanne is desperate to be like them.
Things change, though, when Liat moves into town. Tough, strong, beautiful—and Israeli,too—Liat challenges Roxanne’s assumptions about what it means to be cool, and what it means to be American.
Author & Illustrator Bios:Robin Friedman, author
Robin Friedman has worked as a children’s book editor, freelance writer, and advertising copywriter. She is currently a newspaper editor in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Joel, and their cats, Peppercorn and Peaches. Robin is the author of Nothing (Flux), The Girlfriend Project (Walker Books for Young Readers), The Silent Witness (Sandpiper), and How I Survived My Summer Vacation (Front Street).
Read more about Robin.
Awards & Honors:
- Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner, Older Readers
Eighth-grader Roxanne misses her mother, who has gone home to Israel for several months to care for a relative. It's the early 1980s, in Staten Island, and Roxanne's other big concern is her family's lack of thorough-going Americanness; being Israeli, she has decided, is a problem. She and her nine-year-old sister live on a diet of television, cold cereal, and waiting for their father to return late each night from driving his cab. Then Liat, a girl Roxanne's age, moves in next door and challenges the sisters to explore the possibilities around them and accept their identity as Israeli Americans. The denouement, in which Liat's father packs her up for another move, this time back to Israel, feels rushed. But Friedman does an exquisite job in bringing the two older girls to life and showing how each has responded to her family's upheavals and current circumstances. Minor characters are also compelling and, for the most part, endearing.
Roxanne (Ravit) Ben-Ari is an Israeli-American girl growing up in 1980s New York City. Family life is less than idyllic, with her mother away in Israel and her father working late into the night as a cab driver. The long afterschool hours are spent watching favorite television reruns, eating sporadically from a nearly empty refrigerator and managing to get by with homework assignments. Roxanne aches for her mother's safe return and longs to fit in with her all-American schoolmates, the very reason she changes her Hebrew name. When Liat, a new Israeli girl moves into the empty "cursed" house on the block, Roxanne's attitude on life and her family circumstances is transformed. Liat's Israeli pride brings a fresh perspective that encourages a new confidence in Roxanne, who can then identify with and appreciate her family and dual cultural lifestyle. Told in a first-person voice that is both sardonic and sincere, Friedman's novel succeeds in bringing forth some common issues that challenge any immigrant American child who must straddle separate ways of life while striving for that true-blue American image.
School Library Journal
When Roxanne’s mother returns to Israel to care for an ailing relative, the 13-year-old and her younger sister are left to fend for themselves. They eat cold cereal and canned mushrooms for dinner every night or buy hotdogs from the neighbors, and spend their afternoons and evenings watching television while their father works late nights as a cab driver in Manhattan. But when Liat moves into the “cursed house” next door, Roxanne slowly discovers that her obsession to become all-American might not be as important as she once thought. Confident and unconcerned with what others think, Liat is proud to retain her Israeli name (Roxanne has changed hers from Ravit) and is not embarrassed by her father’s clothes, thick accent, wildly decorated car, or outrageous girlfriend . . . this is a readable coming-of-age story that captures many universal aspects of the contemporary immigrant experience coupled with middle school angst, first crushes, and the importance of finding one’s own wings.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Being all-American, just like the characters on her beloved television shows, is the goal of eighth-grader Roxanne, who's convinced that her Israeli family and upbringing (she moved to the U.S. at five, in the late 1970s) are what keep her from the acceptance she craves. She has to rethink this excuse for her uncertainty when Liat moves into the neighborhood; Liat, also an eighth-grader from an Israeli family, is tough and beautiful, unfazed by the judgment of the popular girls and happy to bring Roxanne along in her confident dealings with the world--if Roxanne can stand it. Friedman has an open and accessible writing style, and she creates an affecting portrait of a young girl always anxious about meeting everyone's standards. While it's clear that Roxanne's Israeli origins are an excuse rather than the real cause for her uncertainty, it's a nice touch that, with Liat's leadership, she begins to find some inspiration instead of shame there; there's also the deft authenticity in Roxanne's acknowledgment that this brief friendship (Liat and her family soon move back to Israel) meant a lot more to her than to Liat. The ease of the writing makes this a useful title for those readers still fazed by small print and multiple chapters, while the book's integrity and sympathy ensure that they'll relate to Roxanne and her dilemma.
ISBN: 978-1-60734-504-6 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-265-6 PDF
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Ages: 10 and up
Page count: 176
5 1/2 x 8 1/4