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The Winged Hendersons of Welton-on-Sea - by Sue H Williams

The Winged Hendersons of Welton-on-Sea - by Sue H Williams

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Awarded and acknowledged by Glimmer Train in two separate contests, The Winged Hendersons-of-Welton-on-Sea is Sue H. Williams’ first young adult book. 

"For fans of the YA genre, 'The Winged Hendersons' is a revelation. Sue Williams' warm, engaging, and propulsive writing makes this book about fitting in -- or not -- a page-turner you simply can't put down." --Dorie Clark, Author of Reinventing You and Stand Out 

"This novella stole my heart. Sweet, vulnerable misfit Gavin has a frightening secret he's fighting to keep from his family, particularly his stern, unyielding father. With the help a compelling cast of supporting characters, particularly his unusual Aunt Moll... Gavin makes one amazing discovery after another. This is a well-written, beautiful story about found families, about finding yourself and coming into your own power at the moment you're most terrified no one will understand. I loved it!" --Rebecca H., Amazon Reviewer

Since Great Uncle Gerald soared across the sky and was branded a "devil" by Welton's fearful residents, the Hendersons have had their wings removed. Such is the cost of fitting in. But when Gavin Henderson hits fifteen, his dad breathes a sigh of relief because it seems his son has skipped the gene. 

Truth is, he's just a late bloomer. 

Gavin's wings start to develop, and soon he can't turn around without ripping the shower curtain or bringing down shelves. Plus, what will the other kids say when the school term begins? Even so, he keeps his wings hidden from his parents, knowing deep down that he doesn't want "the op." All the same, secrets are hard for Gavin. He is, after all, quite the "blurter." 

But like the superheroes that Gavin adores, he knows he is meant to fly. Unfortunately, his parents find him out and swiftly book the op. That's why Gavin takes his friend Tom-Tom's advice and bravely runs away. Soon, he is making exciting new friends and found family, like his classmate, Mani, who helps Gavin see that his wings make him whole, and Dad Dazz, one of Tom-Tom's two fathers, who shows him that difference can be precious. But more importantly, he finds his "Mad" Aunt Moll, the black sheep of the family, who has a mysterious secret that could change the lives of the Henderson family forever. 

This book proudly contains characters who are gay, transgender, or questioning, along with their allies. What’s more, it lovingly depicts people who have different ways of engaging with the world, and those who proudly support them.



1. The Henderson Gene

I first find the lumps in the shower, while I’m washing with my acne scrub. They’re like a string of beads, hard and round, arranged between my shoulder blades, as if they’ve been planted there — you know, like in sci-fi. Don’t panic, I tell myself. They could be spots (I’m hardly Mr. Zitless), but they seem to be connected by some kind of muscle. I climb from the shower, turn my back to the mirror. It’s like someone’s drawn a V in drips of wax. The tips of the V start just beneath my shoulders and the two lines meet at the base of my spine. But they aren’t drips of wax, and they aren’t spots either. 

Holy dingbat. I know what they are.

Before Seb, my brother, had the op, his back was just the same. “Strings of pearls,” he told me. (God, what a dungbrain). “That’s the tips of the spines as they start to push through.” It was great hearing about his growing wings. Imagine! Seb could have been a batman! A superhero, just like Great Uncle Gerald, who I’m not allowed to mention anymore. When me and Seb were small, though, Ma would tell us the story. Back then, it was a bedtime thing. Seb in Ma’s lap, me on the floor. Seb: the cherub. Me: the freckled freak. Ma would twine her fingers through Seb’s curls as she told the tale of Great Uncle Gerald, The Diving Devil of Welton-on-Sea. “At night, he’d swoop and attack, and you’d feel a sweeping darkness. It’s said that, once, he grabbed a pug dog, drank its blood, and dropped it in the sea. It fell with a horrible plop. You can imagine.” 

I’d say I didn’t buy the bit about the dog.

“Gavin, dear,” Ma would sigh, “that isn’t the point. When you look frightening, people tell stories. The man’s home was torched, and is it any wonder?” She’d turn to Seb. “Explain to your brother why we have our wings removed.”

“So people trust us,” Seb would parrot, “and think we’re normal.”

“We are normal,” Ma would add, “because we don’t have wings.” Most of the locals, she’d say, believed Uncle Gerald was nothing but a myth, like Nessie or the beast on the moors. “And that’s because we’ve always had the op.”

But I’d raise my chin and say, “I’d never lose my wings.”

“Believe me,” Ma would snap, red spots forming in the centres of her cheeks, “if you had dirty growths like Great Uncle Gerald’s, you’d be begging for the operation. We’re respectable people. Not brutes.” 

Still, I guessed I’d skipped the wing genes — that’s what Dad said. The growths in the books, he explained, were on broad backs, and I’m kind of scrawny. Plus, being a redhead like Grandma Jones, it looks like I share Ma’s DNA. Growths, Dad always said, came from his side of the family, but that didn’t stop him from patting me down, searching my back to check. Bank on it — every time I get myself in trouble, he’s on me like a sergeant looking for a gun. 

Take last May, for instance. I’d picked Ma a bunch of daffodils from the park, only apparently you’re not really meant to, but it was Mother’s Day. When Ma told Dad, he led me silently to the library, and told me to stand straight and listen. “You never break the law,” he said, as he strode up and down. “That park is for the public.”

I should have stayed quiet, but instead I blurted, “Why?”

That’s when he looked at me like I was hiding something, then gave me the pat-down, which was horrid in a “hand in a jar of worms” sort of way. Dad’s hands are really big — twice the size of mine — and I could feel them pressing, running down my shoulder blades, then creeping up my spine as if to check what he’d found. When he does that, it’s like he’s testing how gross I am, which is why I made myself stare at the bureau, concentrating super-hard at all the little details. The handles on the drawers looked like curly metal ears stuck sideways on the wood. I found myself imagining that Dad was chopping the ears off babies and keeping them in a box file. In my daydream, these baby ears looked pale and bloodless like rubber shells, but then, late at night, Dad would dip them in hot metal and use them to replace all sorts of handles in the house. I know it sounds like a bonkers thing to imagine, but when Dad’s patting me down, I do go bonkers. My mind just wants to run away.

Anyway, fast forward, and here I am, soon to be a flier. Sweet avocado! Can you imagine?


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