Book note: ‘Defect’


It is heartening to find a young adult novel of merit, such as Defect by Will Weaver. It stands out among teen books as a narrative of interest and genuineness, and is undoubtedly one of the best teen novels of 2007.

Defect by Will Weaver, published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (2007). $16.00.

This short (less than 200 pages) novel has for its protagonist David, a boy with a remarkable physical characteristic: wings. He has enormous flaps of skin under his armpits that when unfolded appear to be wings and actually allow him to glide through the air during a strong wind. His face also appears pinched and bat-like. This is due to a birth defect that he received due to his mother drinking and doing drugs while pregnant. She is unable to take care of him and, for most of the earlier portions of his life, he is shifted from foster parent to foster parent, all of whom eventually reject him due to his appearance and behavior. This results in incredible loneliness and depression for David, who has literally no one on whom to rely. He hides his wings, keeping his secret from everyone he knows. He is ostracized by his schoolmates. Although understandably somewhat bitter, David does not let his problems overwhelm him.

Minnesota Book Award nominees in the Daily Planet:
• Jennifer Holder on Catherine Friend’s The Perfect Nest
• Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva on Catherine Watson’s Home on the Road
• Cyrus Wolff on Patrick Jones’s Chasing Tail Lights

The story begins with David being sent yet again to a new set of parents and a new high school. His foster parents, Margaret and Earl Trotwood, make for a refreshing break from the normal, uncaring parents so common in books and movies. They are kind and understanding. The high school, Oak Leaf Alternative School, is a school designed for children with serious problems. It is essentially an asylum for anyone who cannot function in regular schools, a seemingly grim place. But there David forms his first real friendship, with a girl named Cheetah, who is prone to seizures. The two rapidly bond, providing a hitherto unknown element in David’s life. The bulk of the narrative shows David’s process of healing and learning to accept himself for what he really is.

The author skillfully draws the characters in the novel, creating pathos without becoming maudlin.

In the conclusion, David is approached by a surgeon who offers to perform an operation that could remove his wings. This creates a moral dilemma, as he is torn between the demands of society and being true to himself. David’s final decision makes for a touching and satisfying end to the novel.

Cyrus Wolff is homeschooled in Princeton and studies classic literature, focusing on nineteenth century fiction. He is a book reviewer for and writes short stories and essays.