Feb 7, 2011

Francesca Lia Block, Morris Gleitzman and Sharon Creech

I confess that I have no real reason to discuss I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block, Two Weeks With The Queen by Morris Gleitzman and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech together other than a) I read them all during the holidays back home and b) I don’t have them here with me to include favourite quotes (other than the one from Walk Two Moons I copied into a journal, that is) and jostle my brain into writing a more in-depth post about each.

Yet now that I think about it, these three novels actually do have quite a few things in common. They all use seemingly lighthearted approaches to discuss quite serious topics; they’re all subtle and insightful in said discussions; they make use of deliberately restrained narrative tones; they use humour in unexpected ways; they have a lot going on under the surface. And they all made me both laugh and cry (okay, I’ll admit it: mostly cry.)

I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia BlockAt first glance, I Was A Teenage Fairy is about a girl named Barbie who has an invisible fairy friend called Mab. Yet to describe it like this is probably the quickest and easiest way to misrepresent what is in fact *spoiler alert* a story about sexual abuse and its psychological consequences. Barbie (meaningfully named so by her mother) is pushed into a modelling career she doesn’t want, and then left alone with a photographer with... dubious intentions, to put it very charitably. It’s shortly after this that she begins to see Mab, who is described as “the fury, the courage, the sex”. With her friend’s help, and over the course of many years, she struggles to claim her life, her self and her desire back.

What I liked the most about I Was a Teenage Fairy was how psychologically accurate it felt. At its core it’s a portrait of dissociation, and I find it extremely interesting to think about how several different fantasy novels (this, Tender Morsels, Deerskin) have addressed this in different ways – this process of tucking a part of yourself away, so as to not have to deal with an overwhelming reality until you feel strong enough to do so. I could easily write an entire essay on this topic, but I’ll leave it for another time.

In I Was a Teenage Fairy, Mab keeps telling Barbie to never say sorry, and the full significance of this only becomes clear towards the end. Block has written yet another very moving book in her usual colourful, electropunk style. I don’t know quite how she does it, but she manages to make me remain oblivious to how much the story is actually getting to me until I find myself in tears and think, “she’s done it again.”

Other opinions: Stella Matutina

Two Weeks With the QueenMorris Gleitzman’s Two Weeks With the Queen is even more of a tearjerker, but worry not: not in an easy, emotionally manipulative or heavy-handed kind of way. I suspect that if I managed to persuade several of you to read it, it might become a serious competitor for If You Come Softly for Book That Made The Most People Who Don’t Normally Cry With Books Cry.

Two Weeks With The Queen is about Colin, a thirteen-year-old Australian boy whose little brother Luke is diagnosed with cancer. Colin’s parents send him to stay with his uncle and aunt in London to basically get him out of the way while they wait for the worst. There Collin meets Ted, a young man whose boyfriend is dying of AIDS, and who convinces him to consider alternatives to his plan to get the Queen to send the Best Doctor in the World to Australia to cure his brother Luke.

Two Weeks With The Queen is a close third person narration, which means that we always see things from Collin’s eyes. What’s particularly moving for an adult reader is Collin’s unflinching belief that everything is going to be okay: Luke is not going to die simply because he can’t die; because in a world filled with amazing technology, surely it’s impossible that They won’t know how to cure one little boy’s cancer.

Losing that implicit trust in authority, in a benevolent They, in the existence of someone who’ll always make things right, is a huge part of the process of growing up. We all go through it, even if most of the time in far less sudden and dramatic ways than Collin. The way Gleitzman portrays this process is far from cynical, yet it’s also not nostalgic for an idealised form of childhood innocence. This is something that has to happen, and there are certainly many advantages to learning both acceptance of the inevitable and self-reliance when it comes to solving problems. But watching it happen to Collin, even if we know what he’ll gain in return, is still an extremely poignant process.

Another thing Two Weeks with the Queen is is very funny. Honestly, it is. Not in a way that makes light of things, but in a we-need-laughter-to-survive kind of way. Brace yourselves for the final scene, though: it’s an absolute killer (and no, not in the way you’d expect the final scene of a book dealing with life-threatening illnesses to be).

Walk Two Moons by Sharon CreechWalk Two Moons by Sharon Creech is also very funny, but as with all of these books, look beneath the surface and there’s so much more. I am slightly in awe of how this novel is structured: it’s full of layers of stories, all of which tell us things about one another. Impressively, Creech uses this both as a storytelling strategy and a predominant theme.

This is the story of Salamanca Hiddle, who has recently moved from a farm in Kentucky to a small town in Ohio with her father, in the hopes that new surroundings will make it easier for them both to try to cope with Sal’s mother having left them. It’s also the story of Sal’s friend Phoebe, whose mother also walks away from her family. And it’s the story of the road trip Sal is taking with her grandparents to try to convince her mother to come back – during which she keeps them entertained by telling them Phoebe’s story.

Readers can tell from the start that there’s a lot Sal is not telling us, and that there will be hints about what she’s hiding all over the text. But no matter how soon we put them together and guess just where her trip is taking her, the ending is still heartbreaking. Still, it’s heartbreaking in a cathartic rather than a hopeless sort of way, and that too is part of what Walk Two Moons is all about.

There’s a lot more going on here: Sharon Creech writes about gender and women who feel they’re living “tiny lives”; about communication and expectations and unspoken assumptions; about Respectable Families and the emotional cost of this respectability; about love; about grief and magical thinking; and so on. I wish I could say more, but it’s difficult without spoilers. I’ll leave you with the quote I copied to my journal, which is about why we tell stories:
It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumours, and that we can’t fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open. Inside is something that we can manage, something that isn’t as awful as it had at first seemed. It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe murderers and kidnappers in the world, most people seem a lot like us: sometimes afraid and sometimes brave, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind.
It probably goes without saying that I’m a little in love with this book. I can’t wait to read Chasing Redbird.

They read it too: American Indian’s Children’s Literature, Everyday Reading

(Have you posted about any of these books? Leave me your link and I’ll be glad to add it.)


  1. I LOVE Sharon Creech - she tells a good story and so well too. I have enjoyed all of her YA books

  2. Walk Two Moons is one of my favorite YA books. Actually, all of Sharon Creech's are wonderful.

    I so wish Francesca Lia Block wrote books when I was a kid

  3. Ooh I do own 'Walk Two Moons', everyone has been telling me how good it is. I loved her book 'Angel' which I read last year.

    I am thinking I might just want to read Two Weeks With The Queen. I know it is sad and will probably make me blubber, (doesn't take much!) but I think I really really want to read it.

  4. I've only heard about two weeks with the Queen, but you make all theree books sound completely amazing. I'm rarely in the mook for tear-jerkers though (I mostly read on my commute and I suspect both my fellow commuters and I would be happier if I didn't cry on the train :D ).

  5. They all sounds so good, but I'm especially interested in the last one. I'll have to put it on my wishlist. (That's inevitable whenever I read a post by you).

  6. Walk Two Moons astonished me when I came upon it while reading through the books on my kids' fifth grade reading list--it was so good I found other books by her and read them, but none of them were quite as good as that first one.

  7. Haven't read the other two, but I Was A Teenage Fairy was one of my favourites in high school. I just loved it (and other books by FLB) so much. This post makes me want to re-read them all <3

  8. All three of these are new to me, but they all sound like moving and touching reads, and if they made you cry, then they definitely would do the same to me. I am adding these to my wish list, and wanted to say that I appreciate your thoughtful analysis of them all.

  9. I remember hearing a lot about Walk Two Moons when it first came out several years ago, but didn't remember any details. After your review, I'm wondering why I haven't read it.

  10. Verity: Clearly I need to read more of them!

    Jupitersinclair: I know! So much of the YA I read now would have made a world of difference in my life then.

    Vivienne: I think you're going to love them both.

    Bina: I have cried when reading on public transportation before :S It was kind of mortifying :P

    Iris: I hope you'll enjoy it when you get to it!

    Jeanne: I have high hopes for Chasing Redbird, since Jenny said it might be her favourite. But I'll be happy even if it's not quite as good as this one :P

    Marineko: Block is just brilliant <3

    Zibilee: I should warn you that I'm a notorious wimp ;) But even the non-wimpish part of me says they are very moving.

    Kathy: You definitely should!

  11. I haven't heard anything before about any of these but the first one sounds interesting. I probably would have assumed it was supernatural/ fantasy with a title and cover like that though.

  12. Francesca Lia Block is ah-mazing! I love her style and how different she is with what she presents-- especially for the YA sect.

    I remember really liking Echo.

  13. Creech is a favorite of mine and I love introducing her to my kids at school!

  14. As I think you know, I haven't really liked Francesca Lia Block so far... I am going to be trying her again soon, though, because I have Dangerous Angels out from the library. Hopefully it will work better for me.

    I discovered the other day that while I always read your blog, I never actually comment. Trying to fix that. :)

  15. Ladytink: The first one IS fantasy, but not the others.

    She: I'm not sure if I agree with "especially for YA", but yes, she's definitely original and an amazing writer!

    Staci: Hooray for spreading the love :D

    Kelly: I do hope you have more luck with Dangerous Angels!

  16. Sharon Creech totally holds up. I don't always love her books, but the ones I do love, I've reread a zillion times. They are all satisfying in such different ways. I hope you love Chasing Redbird equally -- but let me warn you, there's no cameo from Sal, no matter how much it seems like you're going to get one. :p

  17. I love these three suggestions. I've read others by Francesca and Sharon Creech. I am new to your blog and find lots to enjoy.

  18. Jenny: I'll keep that in mind :P

    Peaceful Reader: Thank you! I'm glad you've been enjoying my blog :D

  19. Thank you for highlighting 3 that I am really interested in reading. I am especially intrigued by #1.

  20. Walk Two Moons is one of my favorite books! Loved your review.

  21. Kathleen, hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up :)

    Emily: Thank you! I can't wait to read more Sharon Creech.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.