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Asta in the Wings (Tin House New Voice) Paperback – February 1, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Like Alice after tumbling down the rabbit hole, Asta takes us on a journey through a confounding world filled with remarkable characters. A compassionate tale mixed with hope and sorrow, Asta In the Wings evokes both the tenderness and the danger of one child's struggle to find a place for herself in a world she is only beginning to understand. It's a gem of a book."
— Aryn Kyle, author of The God of Animals

“In Asta in The Wings Jan Elizabeth Watson has created one of the most appealing fictional heroines I've encountered in a long time. Asta is brave, resourceful, intelligent, and loyal. She also happens to be seven years old, which means she's at the mercy of the unreliable adults who rule her world. The result is a vivid and suspenseful narrative where, over and over again, Asta shows us the world from her own very particular angle. A highly original debut.”
— Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street

“With this, her excellent debut novel, Watson makes quick work of a setup that could prove challenging for even seasoned authors. Seven-year-old Asta grows up in rural Maine in the late 1970s, where she and her sickly nine-year-old brother, Orion, are kept locked in their house by their crazy mother, who fills their heads with tales of the plague-ravaged wasteland waiting outside their door. Equipped with little beyond what their mother provides, the children are wildly creative, surprisingly intelligent and share a deep bond with each other. But when their mother disappears and the two venture outside, they face the real world and real people for the first time. As Asta processes what’s going on and is separated from her brother, she’s reluctant to recognize what was wrong with her previous life. Asta’s narration is full of the wonderment and matter-of-factness of youth, and her eye-opening trip into reality is flawlessly executed by Watson.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"In this extraordinary debut novel, seven-year-old Asta and her malnourished nine-year-old brother, Orion, who live in a small town in Maine, have long been isolated from the outside world. Told by their mother that a plague has devastated the world, they have not set foot outside the house in years, although the two have formed a deep bond based on their richly imaginative play. Then their mother fails to come home from work, and the siblings set out to look for her. Watson vividly renders their first contact with others, including a surly store clerk, a pack of mean-spirited schoolchildren, and a kindly bus driver, from Asta’s awestruck perspective as she slowly comes to grips with the fact that everything her mother told her was a lie. She is unwilling to acknowledge, at first, that there was anything amiss in her family life, although she is quick to perceive that people do not treat her with nearly the same careful attentiveness as her brother does. Sensitive and intelligent, Asta struggles to reconcile her familial loyalty with her new reality. A cleverly constructed, beautifully written first novel from a gifted new writer."—Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist, Starred Review

"Jan Elizabeth Watson's debut, Asta in the Wings, follows two mavens of make-believe—seven-year-old Asta and her nine-year-old brother, Orion—as they reckon with the brutal realities of the adult world in the wilds of rural Maine."—BookForum

"The mysteries and ambiguities that Watson creates, raising questions and not trying to answer them—is what powers the novel."—Nina MacLaughlin, The Portland Phoenix

"Watson hasn't set herself an easy task for her debut. The success of the novel rests entirely on her main character's sparrow-sized shoulders. Fortunately, Asta has reserves of intelligence and resourcefulness to spare and her voice is unforgettable."—Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor

"...a heartbreaking examination of otherness and normality...an expressive, authentic rendering of childhood through a child's eyes..." —Sheila Ashdown, Powell's Review-a-Day

"This debut is a story of what happens when the outside world discovers that a widowed mother in Maine has removed her two children, seven-year-old Asta and her nine-year-old brother, Orion, from any contact with the outside world. Unaware that their mother is delusional, the two children do not feel deprived under her care, appreciating her for what she is able to provide. When their isolated living situation is discovered, the children find themselves at the mercy of kind yet sometimes misguided adults. Asta emerges as the stronger, more communicative child. Bright and sometimes wily, she remains steadfastly devoted to her gifted yet now mute brother. This she somehow manages while attempting to adjust to both home and school by herself, as the two children now live apart. The narrative is told from Asta's perspective, and initially the tone is eerie and unsettling. As the story unfolds, the situation feels less threatening and even incorporates elements of humor. An unusual novel; recommended for larger public libraries."
Library Journal, Feb. 15, 2009, Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ

"Told from the point-of-view of an adult Asta, the book captures a childlike sense of wonder at the everyday, informed by an adult’s understanding, and Watson’s intricate language deftly balances the two."—Meeting House Magazine

"Asta in the Wings is a remarkable...The first published novel by Jan Elizabeth Watson, Asta in the Wings takes on a complicated world of isolation and separation from Asta’s young point of view."—MinnesotaReads.com

"Through Asta's unique voice and perspective we are reminded of the resilience of children. Through her ordeal of finding her way in a new life, we are reminded of the goodness of people, and through her constant search for Mother, we are reminded of the powerful mother-child bond of love. An early review called Asta in the Wings 'a gem of a book' and I would agree."—BookBrowse.com

"Asta is precocious, innocent, curious, vulnerable, loyal, remarkably evenhanded and self-assured. She is the type of character that keeps you reading...Asta in the Wings succeeds because of Watson’s skill in creating a character like Asta and in giving her a voice that somehow captures and illuminates childhood." —Kevin Holtsberry, CollectedMiscellany.com

"Asta Hewitt is a 7-year-old growing up in an isolated house in Maine. Her mother reads Shakespeare aloud from the bathtub, conjures up imaginary illnesses, burns toys for no good reason. She is fanciful, vindictive and deeply loved. When she doesn't come home one night, Asta and her older brother, Orion, decide they must head out into the wider world. "We took turns tugging on the door latch; our hands overlapped at one point, and we pulled with all our might until the heavy old door opened wide and the snow flew straight into my eyes and open mouth. It was time to begin our search for Mother." "Asta in the Wings," Jan Elizabeth Watson's debut novel, is published by Portland's Tin House Books."—The Oregonian

"Superbly imagined... a book that is ultimately about the power of memory and imagination to restore the broken past." —The Somerville Journal

"...remarkably imaginative and heartbreaking...Seeing the world through Asta's eyes is delight enough in itself."—Jasper Lepak, Rain Taxi

"Jan Elizabeth Watson’s debut novel, Asta in the Wings (Tin House, 2009), captures the peculiar insightfulness of childhood through her fearless seven-year-old narrator, Asta. To say that the book is pitch perfect doesn’t begin to capture the gorgeous ways Watson reveals the predicament of Asta and her nine-year-old brother, Orion: their magical, theatrical mother, Loretta, has serious problems that endanger her children...Watson makes it difficult to part with Asta, and impossible to forget her."—FictionWritersReview.com

"Watson's story sends her young heroine from an extraordinary existence into the incredible, ordinary world, and her novel reaches unexpected heights in the process." —Molly Templeton, Eugene Weekly

"Watson's novel beguiles because of Asta's compelling voice and Watson's tight writing."—Debra Spark, Down East

About the Author

Jan Elizabeth Watson was born in Washington, D.C. and spent nearly a decade in New York City, where she received her MFA from Columbia University. She has worked extensively as an editor, copywriter, and adjunct professor of creative writing. She lives in Maine and has one child, a daughter. This is her first novel.

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Product Details

  • Series: Tin House New Voice
  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books; Original edition (February 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0980243610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0980243611
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,889,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting book makes you wonder what the mother was thinking. But I can't help but want to know what happened to Asta and Orion does the mother get her kids back? I kind of feel like it didn't have a good ending I don't like books that don't have a proper ending and are just left open and make your mind wonder. I don't think I'd read another book by this author honestly.
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Format: Paperback
This is an amazing little book. I finished it in one sitting because once I got past the first 10 pages, I just couldn't put it down. Even though it deals with a sad and horrible subject of child abuse, It does it in a way that will bring smiles and laughter to your face. The strength and spirit that Asta has will give you a renewed believe in the spirit of survival.
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A child narrator is a tough sell, but it works in Asta in the Wings, a lovely, moving novel about a child who is wise and naive, the way children are. There is love here, and unhappiness and fear. The tone is gentle and distant and yet this child is so winning that I warmed to her, hoped for her and felt for her. The world has never seemed so arbitrary as it does through Asta's eyes, nor life so confusing; the difference between the normal and the outcast so hard to see, nor the warmth of kindness so welcome. She bravely, stoically faces such trials as would make a less resilient child turn from love, but she is stalwart and faithful. As other reviewers have noted, this book is a page turner and I read it with breathless zest and then was exhausted the next morning. This is a grand first novel and I look forward to Ms Watson's next effort.
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Every year, my favorite booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, is the Tin House Publishing booth. They always have a great collection of books by new authors. Every year, I grab a minimum of four books from Tin House and just buy them based on the cover/title. I take a chance and this year, "Asta in The Wings" by Jan Elizabeth Watson, was one of the books that I grabbed.

Watson's debut novel was impossible to put down. I read it in two days and found myself sad, when I had to set is aside for stuff like work and sleeping! The story is told from the point of view of seven year old Asta. Initially the book starts out sort of like M. Night Shyamalan's, "The Village." Asta and her brother, Orion, are told by their mother that a deadly plague exists outside of their house. They are terrified to so much as look outside of their windows, which are totally boarded up. They are also kept malnourished, in what they are told is the only way to stay healthy.

One day, their mother leaves the house and fails to return. Asta and Orion must face their fears of the outside, in order to try to find their mother. The story takes a bunch of twists and turns that are not only compelling, but emotional. Watson really nails it with the way she tells the story from a seven year olds perspective. I loved this story and cannot wait to read future novels by Watson.
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This has been my favorite book for years, and one of the few I return to again and again. Each time feels like the first time reading it, as I notice more details and experience more emotions. Although Asta faces unusual and difficult problems in her life, she approaches them from an adventurous perspective and never fails to notice the things in life that many others overlook. Highly recommended!
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I am always dubious of the seven year old narrator, but this one is wonderful. Jan Elizabeth Watson takes us into the mind of a seven year old and reminds us how limited and literal our vision of the world was at that age, how pure and hopeful our outlook is, especially towards the adults around us. For Asta this optimism bears out as best it could considering the circumstances. Asta, and her nine year old brother Orion, are "isolates" in the parlance of the local media. Their strange little lives are blown wide open when they escape from their little rural cape-style house, in which they have been imprisoned by deceits. Their mother has convinced them that the world outside their doors and tar-papered shut windows is diseased - literally, and therefore too dangerous for children to ever venture forth. Meanwhile she loves them to death, slowly starving them. It sounds horrific, and it might have been except for the author's beautiful light voice which allows the siblings love for one another to shine through as they adapt to the scary adventures of the real world after accidentally escaping. Social services steps in, as-it-were, for this rural community, and Asta is taken in by her aunt, and Orion by a local Doctor, but to this brother and sister they are all strangers in a strange world.
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Once I got involved, I couldn't put this book down. The author's imagination was so keen it was difficult to believe that this was not autobiographical. I have already recommended it to several friends.
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