I love tween novels that allow me to relive my 80s childhood. Friedman's book The Importance of Wings is set in the 1980s, as Roxanne and Gayle are growing up, trying to fit in and be "American." Roxanne and her family left Israel when she was just five, and she feels like her family is out of step with things, often appearing different than her peers. Roxanne has even made her name more American, instead of the Israeli Ravit. Roxanne and her sister spend a lot of time watching television, entertained by Wonderwoman, as their father works long hours as a taxi driver, and their mother spends time in Tel Aviv caring for her sick sister.
When Liat, another Israeli girl, moves in next door, Roxanne and Gayle have lots to think about. Liat lives with her father- her mother died when she was just four. Instantly the girls have the lack of a mother figure in common, yet Roxanne and Gayle are reminded that their mother will return, while Liat's is gone forever. While Roxanne tries so hard to fit in and worries so much about embarassing herself and being picked on, Liat seems to ignore slights from others and embraces her Israeli name and the ways she is different. Roxanne is able to think about things from a new perspective, learning a great deal from Liat.
There's a lot more to this book than its length would have you think. This novel is a great springboard for a discussion on differences, bullying, even Israeli/US relations and their change over time. Friedman wisely set this book in the 1980s, a time period she reflects as one that was simpler when talking about the US' relationship with Israel. And, by setting her book in the 1980s Gayle and Roxanne's absent mother is truly absent. Today's world with the existence of cell phones, texting, and email would have added a different dimension to the way the story unfolded as the girls missed their mom.
I will be looking for more of Friedman's work; this was a very enjoyable novel.