Saturday, June 07, 2008

Book One: Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

reading: 9:30 am to 11 am (1.5 hours), 182 pages
writing: 11 am to 11:53 am, 53 minutes

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart. Delacorte, 2006 (978-0-385-73282-6)$8.99 pb

Gretchen Yee has problems. She's the ordinary girl in a school full of calculated nonconformists; her art teacher hates her love of stylized, comic book art; her boyfriend dumped her; she's much too shy to talk to Titus, the boy she now likes; her parents are getting divorced and she thinks her dad is fooling around; and she can't even get started reading The Metamorphosis. Then something--an encounter with a gnome? a radioactive celery soda? a strangely grateful fly?--sends Gretchen off on her own metamorphosis, granting her idle wish to be a fly on the wall of the boy's locker room so she can finally figure out what the hell is going on with those alien creatures, boys.

Unable to leave, unable even to close her eyes when she wants to, Gretchen makes some unexpected discoveries about her own, suddenly rampant hormones, how it feels to see people as sex objects, and the surprising ways other kids see her, as well as becoming witness to sexism, bullies, homophobia, secrets--lots and lots of secrets--and the surprising vulnerability of boys.

There are so many interesting themes crammed into this book, but everything meshes so well, it mostly doesn't feel crowded or labored. Gretchen has a distinctive personality and voice, which especially comes through in small, funny details: in a list of action figures she owns, she notes, "Jar Jar Binks (someone gave him to me)." Her feelings about her art come through strongly in descriptions of her work and those of the other students in her class, culminating in a beautiful scene in which she gets to draw Titus: "I forget about the background part of the assignment and concentrate on the dark areas under his eyes, on his long thin nose, his soft lips with the bottom one jutting out as he concentrates, the shadows across his neck and the details of the silver key ring he wear around it. His lovely bony collarbone jutting out of his worn T-shirt." The voice only falters for me because it seems so weird that the only words any kid uses for body parts--and they use them a lot--are "gherkin" and "biscuits," especially when they're not shy about words like "faggot" and "fuck." I got pretty biscuited-out, pretty fast.

Still, this is such a wise and thoughtful and funny book. It makes so much sense to me as an adult--isn't this all the stuff parents are always trying to explain to their kids about other kids?--that I wish I could have the chance to read it from a teenager's perspective, just to see if it sinks in. Um... but if any gnomes or flies or makers of celery soda are reading this, I didn't mean that literally. (14 & up)

Other blog reviews:

Lady Schrapnell, also for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. And some extra comments here.

Frenetic Reader

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Blogger Lenore Appelhans bligged...

Ha! I love your review. Will keep this on my radar.

6/09/2008 5:51 AM  

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