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Asta in the Wings

A 7-year-old narrator with an unforgettable voice carries this debut novel.

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Seven-year-old Asta Hewitt lives locked inside her boarded-up house with her older brother and her mother – living on canned goods as one of the few survivors of a plague that their mother tells them has decimated the population.

But, as their mother heads out the door to work in the cherry-red boots Asta loves, it becomes clear that Asta in the Wings is not science fiction. It’s Maine during the 1970s, and the apocalypse the Hewitts are facing is far more personal in nature.

Instead of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” Jan Elizabeth Watson’s debut novel is closer to Matthew Kneale’s darkly comic “When We Were Romans.” In both novels, a reader listens with growing disquiet as a child narrator describes the actions their mothers take to protect them, when in fact, their parent’s delusions represent the greatest danger.

The world inside the Hewitts’ home is a mix of strict rules, old movies, TV game shows, and the book of Revelation. Asta doesn’t remember life outside, but her adored brother Orion tells her stories about going to school and having a birthday party.

During the day, the children teach themselves, eat bedside picnics of Vienna sausages and creamed corn, and watch TV. Orion’s favorites are the community announcements: “There was nothing he liked better than hearing about an upcoming baked bean supper at the Methodist church even though he had no experience with such events.” (They believe the TV shows are leftover fragments of society and that the actors are all dead.)


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