Reviewed by Mollie Waters
Penny Taylor has had it rough. Growing up on a small farm under her daddy’s watchful eyes has never given her much opportunity to interact with people her own age, especially boys. In the summer of 1999, all of that changes when a bumper crop requires her father to hire additional help in the form of Trent Taylor. The first boy to express any interest in Penny, Trent seems to have it all: good looks, an easy swagger, and such soulful eyes that Penny just can’t help falling for him. When Trent convinces Penny to elope, she doesn’t think twice. Unfortunately, while her whirlwind romance does end in marriage, it does not end in happiness, and when the story fast forwards to ten years down the road, Penny, the once naïve farm girl, is a mere shadow of her former self.
Now in her late twenties, Penny has had to endure years of emotional, mental, and physical abuse at the hands of her alcoholic husband. Trent has even demanded that Penny sever all ties with her parents, whom she has not spoken with since the day she ran off. Never having had children, not being allowed to work, and not being permitted to have friends has resulted in Penny’s complete isolation from the outside world. Penny is so depressed that her ability to function is almost non-existent, but all of this changes when one of Trent’s coworkers brings her the news that Trent has been badly hurt in an accident.
The explosion that sends Trent to the hospital causes him to lose his eyesight, but in some ways, this event is juxtaposed with Penny opening her own eyes to the reality of the man she has married. When Penny arrives at the hospital, she is shocked to find a trampy-looking woman in the room with her husband. Although Trent explains that Norma is just a co-worker, Penny has her doubts, but in a time like this, she sets aside her anger in order to focus her attention on Trent’s injuries.
Out of work and completely dependent on Penny, Trent begins to change, and when Penny realizes she is pregnant, she believes that this accident may be a miracle in disguise. However, no work means no money, and although Trent won’t accept charity, Penny has no choice but to appeal to a local food bank for help.
The church-operated food bank also happens to be where Mrs. Callie Mae Johnson works. Penny has met Callie Mae before, but the two didn’t hit it off due to Callie Mae’s overzealous attempt to get Penny to join her at church. Still, Penny and Trent’s situation is bleak, so Penny swallows her pride and asks for help. What she gets in addition to groceries is a job and friendship with Callie Mae and one of her employees, Fatimah, a Sudanese woman with plenty of pluck.
Penny and Fatimah, who also happens to be pregnant, work together cleaning houses for people Callie Mae knows. Working with such strong, willful women, Penny begins to develop the backbone she has never had, but her life changes yet again when Trent’s eyesight returns, and this time, the change is not for the better.
Able to see again, Trent picks up right where he left off with his drinking and womanizing; in fact, he may be worse than before, for now he does not even really bother to hide his relationship with Norma. Instead of abusing Penny, Norma becomes his unwitting target, and he pummels her with both fists right in front of his pregnant wife. Both Callie Mae and Fatimah encourage Penny to leave her husband, but with her child on the way, Penny cannot seem to muster the courage to leave such an abusive man.
When Norma turns up dead, though, the stakes are raised, and Penny has to decide whether she can trust Trent, who swears that he had nothing to do with it. With cops turning up at her front door and her two best friends pleading with her to do the right thing for herself and her child, Penny is in the most difficult, and deadly, situation of her life.
Wings of Glass is a quick-paced, engrossing read. Many of the characters are so realistic that the reader may wonder if the author is writing fiction at all. Yet the book does have one or two issues that detract from its fluidity. Sometimes the friendly banter between the three women is slightly overdone, and a few times their actions—such as those in the scene outside the bowling alley, when both Penny and Fatimah sit down in the middle of the parking lot and refuse to budge—leave the reader more annoyed than amused.
In addition, the setting of the work is somewhat vague. While the author clearly states in the first chapter that Penny meets Trent in 1999 and that the main action is ten years later, the lack of cell phones and caller identification in key moments makes the work feel more 1980s. Also, the location of the novel could just as easily be in the Midwest as it is in the South. Perhaps, though, the author does this intentionally to show that domestic violence can happen any time and in any place.
Her third novel, Wings of Glass proves Gina Holmes’s mettle as an author. She manages to grab her reader’s interest from the beginning, and the hooks she puts at the end of each chapter are just too enticing not to nibble at them. Wings of Glass is a solid novel, for Holmes has deftly handled a story about domestic violence that is both heart-wrenching and endearing at the same time.
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