If you’re a YA fan who is currently looking to read the polar opposite of “The Fault In Our Stars,” well, do we have a book for you: “Dirty Wings,” by Sarah McCarry.
The prequel to McCarry’s debut YA novel — punk-rock “Orpheus and Eurydice” retelling, “All Our Pretty Songs” — “Dirty Wings” tells the tale of a pair of teenage runaways: ragged, streetwise Cass and her piano prodigy friend Maia. A tangled, unconventional love story, the book follows the two as they find themselves going deeper and deeper into a world of music and evil — along with Maia’s Kurt Cobain-proxy lover — from which they may not be able to extricate themselves.
In case you’re not up on your Nirvana lyrics, both “All Our Pretty Songs” and “Dirty Wings” reference the grunge band in their titles — and with the aforementioned Kurt Cobain proxy who sells his soul to make music and ends up taking his own life.
The book officially drops on July 15, but you can get an exclusive sneak-peek below. Three guesses why we chose this section…
Later, they make popcorn and watch MTV, a thing Maia has never done. “What do you mean, you’ve never seen MTV?” Cass says, horrified.
“I’m not really allowed,” Maia says.
“Princess, you are seventeen.”
“You met my mom.”
“I did, yes.” Cass shakes her head. Maia is astonished by the music videos, the men in tight pants moving against animated backdrops. A man eats cereal at a round table in the middle of the desert with a lady in a glittering red headscarf. A man in a white undershirt plays the flute in a tree. More men do a synchronized, hopping dance atop a sand dune. Now, dressed all in white, they carry a black box across the desert. The images are nonsensical, dreamlike.
“What is this?” Maia breathes; she is so agog Cass thinks she will reach out and pet the screen.
“It’s rock music,” Cass says, laughing. “Oh, girl. We gotta get you out of the house.”
The video in the desert is over. Another comes on: someone pouring colored paint on a pretty lady lying on the beach, while men in suits sing on a wooden sailboat.
“I want you to cut my hair,” Maia says. Cass pauses, a handful of popcorn halfway to her mouth, and looks at her thoughtfully.
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to.”
“What about your mom?”
“F— my mom,” Maia says, and a glorious thrill runs through her. “I want music video hair.”
“Okay,” Cass says. “Find me some scissors.”
In Maia’s bathroom, Cass combs out her hair, the black sheet of it falling around Maia’s shoulders in rich waves.
Each stroke of the brush soothes her. She looks at them in the mirror: Cass, raggedy and impish; her own smooth, solemn face with the black hair covering her like a coat of crows’ wings.
“You sure about this?” Cass’s reflection says to hers. “This is a lot of hair to grow back.”
“I want to know who’s underneath it.”
“Fair enough,” Cass says. “How short?” Maia holds her hands level with her chin. “Short.”
She closes her eyes, hears the crisp sound of the scissors opening, the shearing of them closing next to her ear. She can feel her hair falling away from her head and drifting across her body. The shhkkk, sshhkkk again, and again, and more of her hair lands heavily on her shoulders, her bare feet.
Cass puts one hand to her chin, gently tilts her head one way and then the other. “Look down,” she says, and then, “Look back up again.” She rests one hand at the place where Maia’s neck curves into her shoulder, leaves it there, takes it away. Maia can feel Cass’s fingers running through her hair, holding the strands to be cut next. When the noise of the scissors stops for a moment, she feels Cass’s cool palm over her eyes.
“Not yet,” Cass says. “Let me make sure it’s even first.”
More snips. Her head feels so light she thinks it is in danger of floating away altogether. Silence.
“You can look,” Cass says.
Maia opens her eyes. The girl in the mirror is a stranger, her sleek bob falling to either side from a ruler-straight central part and ending sharply at her chin. The fine bones of her face stand out in startling relief. The full curve of her mouth crooks up at one corner in a disbelieving grin.
“Oh my god,” Maia says. Behind her, Cass smiles, pleased as a cat in cream. “It’s perfect. How did you get it so even?”
Cass lifts one shoulder, drops it. “There are a couple of things I’m good at. You want to dye it?”
“I don’t know,” Maia says, and then, “Yeah.”
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Cass says.
The dye takes forever. Cass makes Maia put on an old shirt while she mixes lightener and developer in a bowl Maia steals from the kitchen. The sharp chemical scald of the bleach fills Maia’s bathroom and makes them both cough. It burns even worse on Maia’s scalp; Cass tells her she has to leave it on for at least forty- five minutes for it to strip the color out of her dark hair, and they watch more MTV, Maia’s eyes watering from the sting and fumes.
When Cass finally washes the bleach out of her hair she almost cries in relief. Cass lathers in the red dye, smearing Vaseline at Maia’s hairline to keep the color from staining her skin, makes her watch more MTV, rinses the red out at last. The color stains the tub, the sink, the towels, the floor. Cass rubs her head gently with a towel, combs her fingers through Maia’s hair. Maia stares at herself in the mirror.
If short-haired Maia was a stranger, this flame-haired creature is an alien. Maia turns her head from side to side, staring. The red is an unnatural, gorgeous blaze of color. Cass has transformed her into someone she had no idea was waiting inside her.
“People are going to look at you, now, princess,” Cass says, watching Maia watch herself. “You better get used to it.”
“I love it.”
Cass wipes the back of her hand across her forehead in an exaggerated gesture of mock relief. “Good thing,” she says. “No going back now. If your mom throws you out, you can stay with me. It’s getting late; want to go to that show?”
Maia nods happily, though she can barely tear herself away from the mirror. She puts the New Order shirt and her new black jeans back on, laces up her new combat boots. Cass surveys the wreckage of the bathroom. “You want to clean up?”
“F— my mom,” Maia repeats, gleeful.
Cass grins. “That’s the spirit. I don’t feel like walking. Can we steal your dad’s car again?”