The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, is a modern homage to Romeo and Juliet. It is the love story of two teenagers from rival families of traveling performers. One family is French-speaking Romani, or gypsies, who perform a traveling show of fairies, wearing large wingspans of feathers and hopping amongst the evening treetops. The other family is Spanish speaking and performs a traveling mermaid show, with sequined tails and choreographed movements appearing and disappearing within a local lake. Both families are steeped in superstitions and convinced that their enemies are working black magic against them. To touch a member of the rival family is forbidden. Past down from generation to generation are stories of what evils will fall you if you touch their skin. Deep family secrets spur on this hatred amongst the rivals.
The story focuses on one summer the two traveling troops find themselves once again competing for audiences in a small town in Florida, living and performing around the town lake and forest. Here, both families confront memories of a tragic event that happened on this same site twenty years earlier; both blame the other for their misfortunes stemming from this event. A tragic cosmic event once again descends upon the lake and brings our two young people together. Lace and Cluck are thrown together that night, saving each other and branding each other, becoming irreversibly entwined. As their love takes hold, both uncover the secrets their families have kept and the source for the hatred held so sacred to both families for so long.
McLemore weaves both French and Spanish throughout this novel, adding to the rich language and sense of cultural histories. The superstitions of black magic that pervade each family’s identity also becomes real, as we learn that the x family all grow feathers from the backs of their heads, and the x family are all marked with iridescent scales. Thus they truly are their acts- birds and mermaids.
Both young people are outcasts from their families. Cluck is tormented by his family because his feathers have marks of red; they call him the “little devil”. Cluck and Lacy’s differences unravel as they both learn their truth and fall in love. “Cluck knew what Lace meant, that they weren’t so different, that the space between them was make only of names and colors. But the bitterness went into Cluck like the slip of a paring knife. He would have wanted the choice not to be a red-streaked thing among all his family’s perfect black. Now her father took aim at the black birds in the woods, shooting his own name” (216).
This story is ultimately about self acceptance, discovering identity, and having the strength to break away from the narratives of family and set out on one’s own course. Despite the hate they have been taught about each other their whole lives, both Lace and Cluck find refuge in each other and are able to look past appearances and preconceptions to find love. Readers who love romance, magic and stories of overcoming discriminating family legacies will love this novel.
by: Courtney Stephens
McLemore, Anna-Marie. The Weight of Feathers. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 2015.