Imagine discovering that your boyfriend of two years has been cheating on you for the entire time, and is now leaving you for the other woman. Even worse, imagine discovering that you are the other woman. This is where Miho begins this story. Her boyfriend – renamed Scumbucket by Miho’s friends – has broken off his affair with her to marry his longtime girlfriend who’s now pregnant. Miho doesn’t know how to cope. She wrapped so much of her life into that relationship – not giving herself over to him, but integrating him into her interests and loves and friendships. Now, all the things that make her her feel stolen away, right on the eve of adulthood, right when life is uncertain to begin with. Miho doesn’t want her life to be about the Scumbucket who treated both women in such horrible fashion. She wants to break all ties with him – mentally and emotionally, in addition to the physical break. So she begins something new. On the first night of her grief, she wrapped herself up in a banner on the beach without paying much attention to what it said. It was an advertisement for Ironman Hawai`i, and though Miho has never been particularly interested in sports, she throws herself into triathlon training, with the help of all her closest friends.
I know that’s a long intro, but this book deserved all of that. This was a fascinating book that could have read surface level: breakup woes, girl trains for triathlon to overcome heartbreak, rise from the ashes and become the best she’s ever been, etc. It wasn’t like that at all. This isn’t a commonplace heartbreak. Not only is this a longer relationship than most in adolescence, Miho has to reconcile so many things: how much she integrated Scumbucket into her life; how she failed to realize she wasn’t the only one; the fact that she was in fact the potential cause for the breakup of a longer relationship; how to manage her relationship with the other woman and whether or not to make her existence and the affair known; etc. There was also a whole myriad of themes along social, ethnic, racial, class, and cultural lines. I have good things to say on all of those, but my favorite was in the depiction of poverty. Redd doesn’t idealize poverty, and she also doesn’t portray it as entirely hopeless. It’s realistic and messy and nuanced. That’s a balance I very rarely see authors attempt, much less pull off.
There’s a certain amount of hope throughout Fierce as the Wind, but it’s not just a story of overcoming obstacles to get to a glorious end. Not all obstacles can be overcome, and ends are usually a good mixture of many things. Again, Redd isn’t afraid to take us to a more-nuanced kind of conclusion. That’s what makes the book so good. Miho is looking to find her way, with a wonderful support crew around her to help, but muddling through life is kind of what we do, even if we get glimpses of the road before the next twist surprises us. By the end of the book, it feels like she’s beginning to learn just that, which in itself is a kind of victory. Just don’t expect this one to be like the Ironman version of The Mighty Ducks (yes, I’m showing my age). It’s far better than that kind of story.