By IRENE PANIS
Barnes & Noble welcomed recently-published author Katherine Webber for her first book signing in the United States at its Tustin Marketplace location on Tuesday, March 14. Webber seemed quite excited to be back in Irvine after living in both London and Hong Kong previously, especially since she is a Southern California native and UHS graduate. Many family members and old friends seemed equally as enthusiastic about Webber’s return, albeit temporary, with multiple people saying “I missed you!” and “Do you remember me?” for much of the signing’s duration.
The signing marked the formal introduction of Webber’s book, The Heartbeats of Wing Jones, to the United States. Although the book had not reached US shelves until March 14, Wing Jones has been in stores in England for the past two months since its publication there this past January.
“England was kind of like my test run,” explained Webber, who has done a number of book signings there. “[My first US book signing] is a little scary. You know, you hope people show up… [but] it’s one of those things I’ve dreamed about for so long. Sounds cheesy, but it feels like a dream come true.”
Described as “a warm, arrestingly original novel about family, poverty, and hope,” Wing Jones follows the story of a young girl named Wing whose family is struck by a sudden tragedy. With her brother Marcus in a coma and her family faced with medical bills they cannot afford to pay off, Wing finds solace in running. After her talents are discovered by Marcus’ best friend Aaron, they realize that Wing’s speed and agility could land her not only a spot on the school’s track team, but also a coveted sponsorship from a prominent athletic gear company.
In its two months of being published, Wing Jones has been met with rave reviews. Much of the praise has been directed towards the novel’s diversity; Wing is Afro-Asian, with one-half of her family originating from Ghana and the other half from China. Non-white protagonists are a rarity in popular YA literature, much less non-white protagonists who are mixed-race, so Wing is definitely a breath of fresh air for young readers.
Wing Jones has also received acclaim from fellow YA authors. Bestselling authors such as Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) and Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season) have voiced their praises for the novel. “I fell in love with Wing Jones, and you will too,” Taylor said, while Shannon called Wing Jones “one of the best debuts [she’s] ever read.”
Wing Jones is a work of fiction, but bits and pieces of Webber’s own life manage to poke through. Webber admitted that the creation of Wing was partly inspired by her high school self.
“I ran track and cross-country at UHS and I was never that fast; but, I always loved the idea of being fast, so I wanted to write about a girl who was fast,” Webber said. “So I’d think, ‘Where’s the story in that? Why is she running? What makes her special? What makes her running special?’… And it kind of came out from there.”
Other bits of inspiration include Marcus being partly based on Webber’s own younger brother, who was also a high school sports star, as well as the novel being set in Atlanta, which was largely influenced by Webber’s one-year stay there.
From bullying to financial struggles to a budding romance, Wing Jones covers a plethora of topics. However, Webber wants readers to make no mistake about what theme the book is meant to convey.
“I would want [readers of Wing Jones] to realize they’re stronger than they think they are,” she said. “When bad things happen that are out of your control, you can still control how to respond to it.”
Considering the trials and tribulations of becoming a published author, it is safe to say that Webber takes this message to heart. Wing Jones may be her first published novel, but it is not the first novel she has written. According to her, the two novels that came before Wing Jones were rejected over 130 times. The number may seem daunting, but Webber has advice for young aspiring writers looking to make their mark.
“Being published is this blend of talent, luck, timing and tenacity,” she said. “Just keep going.”
With a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, The Heartbeats of Wing Jones can be found at Barnes & Noble for $17.99 or on Amazon for $11.64.