The Girl Who Grew Wings by Anna Waterworth – at a glance
The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Mythology, magic, feminism, demons, sisterhood.
YA book title: The Girl Who Grew Wings.
YA author: Anna Waterworth.
Genre: YA Fantasy.
Published by: Chicken House.
Recommended for children aged: 14+ year-olds.
First published: Paperback July 2023.
This YA book is ideal for: Teens making their first foray into the darker side of fantasy and mythology without losing any of the fun and action.
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Twins Sephie and Icari have always looked out for one another. After their mother is arrested and publicly executed for possession of an illegal drug, they are forced even closer. Their mother’s reputation for being a powerful healer and possible witch has the powers that be keeping a close eye on Sephie and Icari, whose god-given gifts for alchemy and healing respectively endow them with the potential for great power. When their coming-of-age ceremony goes wrong, Sephie is mistakenly placed among the Embalmers, and though she tries to blend in, she struggles to mask her revulsion when it comes to the dead. Icari, too, finds herself in trouble, when she finds herself drawn to the mysterious prisoner Casziel who remains mysteriously strong despite his long dungeon imprisonment. One day, a flock of demons from the Underworld descend on the citadel of Appollis, snatching Sephie. What could they possibly want with her?
The Girl Who Grew Wings draws on many of the publishing trends of the last decade. Most notably, it draws on the recent vogue for classical myth retellings, though not in a predictable or transparent way. In fact, I hesitate to tell you which, as it might reveal more about the plot than you need to know going in (those in the know can probably figure it out, though!). If you’re looking for a straightforward myth retelling like, for example, Jessie Burton’s Medusa, this isn’t the book for you. Instead, Waterworth weaves aspects of Greek mythology into the plot, never sticking rigidly to the conventions of the classical tradition. The slightly less obvious comparison, for this reviewer anyway, is to the dark romantasy novels of the late noughties and early 2010s – think Twilight, Beautiful Creatures or Shiver. Icari’s fascination with Casziel, without revealing too much, puts the reader in mind of the dark, brooding heroes of that period of teen fiction, and definitely sticks the landing in doing so. Casziel is the perfect dark romantasy leading man. Completely swoon-worthy!
The world of Appollis feels at once familiar and fresh. Readers of YA will be familiar with the trope of the coming-of-age sorting ceremony from series like Divergent; these appeal to that youthful urge to find your tribe – a group you can identify with through those turbulent, isolating years. Waterworth invites you to consider whether you would be a Healer, Embalmer or Alchemist. She does manage to resist the temptation to be overly prescriptive with what traits best suit a member of each faction, however, creating a compelling and diverse cast of supporting characters. The familiar “school for gifted children” setting manages not to lean too heavily into convention, with the classical, Mediterranean feeling of the world bringing something new to the well-trodden genre.
Icari and Sephie, as twins, provide contrasting perspectives on various problems love, grief and ambition. Sephie is certainly the more sympathetic of the two. Many teens will find her struggles to manage her temper and try to fit in highly relatable. Though Icari initially suffers from coming across as slightly worthy and cloying – she’s a total goody-two-shoes – once she develops a bit more of a rebellious streak, she becomes a much more interesting counterpart to her sister.
The Girl Who Grew Wings is an empowering feminist tale that definitely sits at the more mature end of the Young Adult spectrum. The book does not shy away from issues of misogyny and violence against women, interrogating the issues at the root of patriarchy. As such, readers should be aware that the book does include some swearing, as well as graphic descriptions of violence against women and some gore (at one point this reviewer actively recoiled from her copy of the book). I would recommend this as a transitional text for young readers who are keen to pick up some of the classical retellings by the likes of Pat Barker, Madeline Miller and Natalie Haynes, but aren’t quite ready to make that transition to adult fiction just yet.
- Read a free extract.
Many thanks to Chicken House for the review copy.
If you like The Girl Who Grew Wings by Anna Waterworth you might also like: our reviews of The Isles of the Gods by Amie Kaufman, Unraveller by Frances Hardinge, Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker, When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari, Secret Sister by Sophie McKenzie and The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho.
Browse our list of books for KS4