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It's a mad, bad world out there. A world where children are named after their most obvious characteristic, from Gurl (a girl) to Bug (who isn't actually a bug, per se, but who does look a lot like one). A world where birds are worshiped, cats are ostracized and everything else is locked up in a zoo. A world with super-powers to rival anything from Heroes, (flying, turning invisible, that sort of thing), and where there are people with grass for hair, and zips for mouths. A world where monkeys control minds, where there are giant rats obsessed with cats and where you can only be who you are when you forget what you were.
Twelve year old Gurl has not had much of a life so far. Raised in an orphanage Hope House for the Homeless and Hopeless for as long as she can remember, she is teased and bullied, or, worse still, simply ignored by the other children thanks to her complete and utter inability to fly. She is a leadfoot in a world where flying is the norm, and she has never felt more lonely. Then, one night, she discovers an amazing secret about herself - she can make herself invisible - and while she might not be taking off any time soon, she has more than enough mystery to keep her entertained on the odd occasion when she manages to escape the orphanage and venture out into the rest of New York City.
Not for long, though. Mrs Terwiliger, the mean matron of Hope House discovers Gurl's secret, and forces her into a life of crime. If she's not out stealing fur coats for her mistress, she's in the doctor's office, erasing the outstanding bills for the woman's manic plastic surgery. That could have been the end of the story, another unpleasant twist in an already unfortunate life, but Gurl has other plans. She enlists the help of new boy Bug and together they hatch a plan to escape the prison that is currently their home.
It's not going to be easy, though, as there are all sorts of secrets out there in the city, and the two have to contend with being pursued by a hardened gang of criminals, with no idea why, rediscovering their pasts, and all the while trying to survive as two homeless and penniless kids on the city streets.
Golly, that's an exciting plot, don't you think? I found it thrilling how foreign a familiar place could be when all the usual ideas were turned out their heads, or twisted in some way. On the one hand, Gurl is a normal girl living in a normal city, where people get up and go to work, go out to dine in restaurants, stay in plush hotels, shop on eBay, celebrate holidays and have orphans cared for by the state. On the other hand, the city is about as far from normal as you can possibly get. And, I think this is the beauty of the story, because while you're dealing with all these wacky and wonderful people and scenarios, you do need something vaguely familiar to help you to visualise the story, and to bring it all together. One of the most obvious comparisons is to the Harry Potter series, and I'm sure readers of JK Rowling's masterpieces will fall in love with The Wall and The Wing the way they did with The Boy Who Lived.
It took me a while to figure out what on earth was going on - more than half of the book in fact - but I kept reading because although I couldn't work out the overall direction of the story, it didn't matter because I was fascinated with the details of the here and now.
Gurl is a fantastic heroine because she is, until the discovery of her power, a very plain girl with no notable features. She is the last person you would expect to find soaring above the city streets or scavenging for leftovers behind swish Italian restaurants, but that is exactly where we do find her.
I think this book could appeal to a range of ages, from junior school readers who take it at face value and enjoy the suspense, incredible plot twists and the comedy, to teens who can see beyond the words to grasp the messages in the story, and who can appreciate the internal struggles Gurl faces between doing what's right, and doing what's necessary to survive.
As someone who, until reading this, always veered away from fantasy, and would have gone on record saying they disliked this genre immensely, I was won over by the book and would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Used from a penny (plus postage) or new from £4.49 on Amazon, this is a bargain either way.
This review originally appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk