on the wings of a hummingbird

On the Wings of a Hummingbird – Book Review

Thank you so much to author Susan Mills for providing me with a copy of On the Wings of a Hummingbird in exchange for this honest review.

Before discussing the actual content of this novel it is important to address a matter that an increasingly aware culture cannot agree on. What is and is not cultural appropriation? For context, the author of this book is a white woman, the content of this book is the story of a young Guatemalan girl.

The author addresses this with a note at the beginning in which she states that she’s aware of this concern but still feels that she is able to tell this young girl’s story based on her own experiences coupled with good old fashioned creativity. The author is a bilingual immigration attorney who spent 20 years helping unaccompanied minors find their place in America. From that, I think we can trust that she’s coming from strong experience with honest intentions.

There are people out there who seem to think that only a Guatemalan girl could tell this story. These are the same people who get mad at a straight actor playing gay but not at a gay actor playing straight. I think this argument is silly. Writing and any form of creative media are just that, creative. If white people were only allowed to write white stories we’d be in even worse shape than we are now.

Here’s the deal, if we want representation we have to take the wins as they come. White people are, unfortunately, still in a place that they simply have an advantage in getting stories published or made. So why should we stop them from telling the stories of minorities as well? I’ve said similar statements in other contexts before but if a minority group is the only group allowed to speak on their behalf then nothing will ever change. We talk about allies, how about we let them speak too?

With On the Wings of a Hummingbird we have a beautifully written story about a young girl trying to escape gang violence and poverty to have a better chance in the world. Who are you or anyone else to say this story shouldn’t be told just because it wasn’t written by that young girl? That would be a memoir, this is fiction. Well done fiction at that. People need to stop fighting the wrong battles.

With that out of the way we can finally talk about the book. On the Wings of a Hummingbird is about Petra. Her mom left for America years ago and left her and her brother behind. Petra wants to join her in America so that she can have a better shot at becoming a doctor. A dream that very likely could never be realized if she stays at home.

There are many roadblocks to her achieving this dream. Her childhood friend Emilio has since joined a local gang and brings violence with him everywhere he goes. He has his sights set on Petra to become his future bride. Her old fashioned grandmother encourages this relationship despite its obvious danger and her obvious reluctance.

The gang wants to control Petra so that she’ll become a subservient member of their crew. They underestimate her strong will. She is subjected to violence and sexual horrors as she remembers what this same gang did to her best friend years earlier.

The book is told through the present but also through the past as it weaves memories into current events. Time is not linear and trauma sneaks up just like it’s right behind you right now. In addition to the weaving of time there are some magical elements that take cues from traditional myths and fables of the culture.

As this coming of age story progresses Petra must come to terms with who she really is. She is troubled by the realization that she might prefer the romantic company of women while living in a society that more than frowns on this lifestyle. This is all the more motivating for her to go to America no matter how dangerous that road may be.

Overall, On the Wings of a Hummingbird is a story of growth and forgiveness. One of hope but also of sacrifice. Nothing comes easy in this world and every individual has a past that you don’t know about. These traumas shape all of us but most of us keep them buried. It is never fair to treat a person like they have not suffered like you have suffered. Forgiveness, open discussion, and sympathy are the paths to building bridges.

I recommend this novel for all audiences. It has an important story to tell and a strong message behind it. The only thing that matters is what is on the pages.

5/5 hummingbirds (use your imagination on the emoji) 🦜 🦜 🦜 🦜 🦜

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