July 1st

July 1st: On Laurence Yep’s Dragonwings

There was a time in my life—say, second through eighth grade—when I would have hated this book. Dragonwings: the title promises a tale more explicitly fantastic. I would have cracked it with the expectation of swords and sorceries, apocryphal histories, elves. And instead I would have had my heart unwillingly warmed. Despite its unique setting and protagonists—in 1975, I imagine stories of Chinese immigrants were few and far between—the tale is a familiar one. Moon Shadow, the novel’s narrator, adores his father, Windrider, whose dream it is to fly. Both are essentially righteous, if occasionally violent, protagonists. And the white “demons” of San Francisco’s middle class, excluding the “demoness” who takes them in, are a comfortably uniform evil. There is never a moment when we do not side with the father-son duo, and our rooting is rewarded. Windrider accomplishes his dream, if only for a moment. The pair are allowed a quiet, imperfect sort of peace. Dragonwings, the name of the plane he’s built, crashes. But Windrider survives. And they go on.

I’m not sure there was ever a time in my life when I would have loved this book. Even now, there remains too much cynicism in me, too little gentleness, to love a story as unambiguous as this. That being said, I like Dragonwings. A lot. I was gifted it by one of my former students on my last day as a high school teacher. It’s their favorite book, and I can see why. All teenagers imagine the world arranged against them, and some—most, maybe—experience the world as such. The thesis that Dragonwings presents—that love and determination and hope are enough—is a comforting one, even if it’s one I don’t buy. One’s enemies are rarely demons, and one’s friends are never saints. Goodness is a good thing, but it isn’t enough. Love and hope and determination are not enough. It’s all so much more complicated than that. There is transgress inside us all. All that is left to us is to try our best.

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