Title: All of Us with Wings
Author: Michelle Ruiz Keil
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQIA
Publisher: Soho Press
Review Copy: ARC received
Availability: June 18, 2019
Summary: Michelle Ruiz Keil’s YA fantasy debut about love, found family, and healing is an ode to post-punk San Francisco through the eyes of a Mexican-American girl.
Seventeen-year-old Xochi is alone in San Francisco, running from her painful past: the mother who abandoned her, the man who betrayed her. Then one day, she meets Pallas, a precocious twelve-year-old who lives with her rockstar family in one of the city’s storybook Victorians. Xochi accepts a position as Pallas’s live-in governess and quickly finds her place in their household, which is relaxed and happy despite the band’s larger-than-life fame.
But on the night of the Vernal Equinox, as a concert afterparty rages in the house below, Xochi and Pallas accidentally summon a pair of ancient creatures devoted to avenging the wrongs of Xochi’s adolescence. She would do anything to preserve her new life, but with the creatures determined to exact vengeance on those who’ve hurt her, no one is safe—not the family she’s chosen, nor the one she left behind.
Review: (Note: This book includes rape/sexual assault, domestic violence/intimate partner violence, drug use, and a budding romantic/sexual relationship between a 17-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man.)
Xochi, our heroine, is a bi, biracial Mexican-American girl who is trying to make a new life for herself in San Francisco. All of Us with Wings is a fascinating story about growing up, both for Xochi and Pallas. Xochi is on the cusp of adulthood, while Pallas is stepping into teenagerdom, and their growth affects how they relate to each other and the world around them. I enjoyed how their dynamic shifted throughout the novel, and their relationship was the one I was most invested in.
And there are a lot of relationships in this novel. All of Us with Wings throws us straight into the large, complicated, polyamorous family at Eris Gardens. The family is made up of members of the band and behind-the-scenes crew, and the people in their sprawling found-family are all adults except for Xochi and Pallas. The family members are, for the most part, distinct and interesting characters with different strengths and advice to offer Xochi as she heals from her past and navigates her present.
One of the many fun and striking things about All of Us with Wings was the sheer number of point-of-view characters. Xochi and Pallas are the primary POVs, but Peasblossom (a cat!) has his fair share of screen time and magical realism adventures. It was fun to turn the page and be surprised by whose head you’d be in next, and author Michelle Ruiz Keil did a great job of giving the many narrators different voices.
I loved the two creatures that Xochi and Pallas accidentally summoned. They felt equally childlike and dangerous, and there was no questioning their power as they went about trying to bring justice to the ones who had wronged Xochi. The magical realism as a whole made the 1980s-ish San Francisco setting even more interesting and generally helped to emphasize that new-old-magical-world feel of growing up.
Perhaps the only level on which this book did not work for me is the budding relationship between Xochi and Leviticus. While it was a contrast to the violations Xochi suffered at Evan’s hand, it still squicked me out. Xochi’s earlier kiss with Bubbles felt far less predatory since we didn’t get multiple POVs from Bubbles beforehand where she thought about Xochi’s attractiveness, plus she’s also closer in age to Xochi as she “barely” crossed Leviticus’s personal lower-age limit for lovers (which he, of course, breaks for Xochi). I understand the intent of the Xochi and Leviticus plot, but it left me dissatisfied and, honestly, disappointed in the rest of the Eris Gardens adults for their *shrug emoji* acceptance of what happened.
Recommendation: Get it soon. All of Us with Wings was a strong debut from author Michelle Ruiz Keil. The characters and world were memorable and interesting, and they worked together well to tell a solid coming-of-age story. While a personal squick soured one of the important plots of the story, it was an otherwise engaging read. I’m looking forward to the author’s next book.
Interview with Michelle Ruiz Keil, Author of All Of Us With Wings at YA Shelf