book review: i was a teenage fairy by francesca lia block

January 4, 2010

Once upon a time, in the bubble-gum-snapping, glitter polish-wearing, lip-gloss-applying San Fernando Valley, a gentle girl named Barbie met a feisty fairy named Mab. Mab glimmers and gabs by Barbie’s side throughout her teen years as she becomes a successful fashion model, falls in love, and endures all the troubles that come along for the ride–in addition to facing the black secret of her past.

This is one of those classics where every word written has a meaningful purpose, where I can’t find anything that I would suggest to change. A totally super book.

The trouble with reading as a writer is that it’s hard to engross myself completely into a book without thinking of all the lessons I’ve learned about writing and whether or not they apply to the passage I’m reading. Even though one of the lessons is to ‘forget the rules, there aren’t any’, I’ve still been ingrained with certain ideas about what you can do and what you can’t. Anyway, Block breaks a few of those rules. Or maybe I should call them ‘principles’. She does an omnipresent point of view at times. There aren’t chapters, just part I and part II.

At first I thought the book was written in such a way that the reader doesn’t truly feel connected with the protagonist, Barbie. But the stunning voice kept me enticed enough to read on, and by the end of the first part, I gave a crap about her, all right. I gave a whole lot of crap.

As for voice, read this:

“If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model with collagen-puffed lips and silicone-inflated breasts, a woman in a magenta convertible with heart-shaped sunglasses and cotton candy hair; if Los Angeles is this woman, then the San Fernando Valley is her teenybopper sister. The teenybopper sister snaps big stretchy pink bubbles over her tongue and checks her lip gloss in the rear view mirror, causing Sis to scream. Teeny plays the radio too loud and bites her nails, wondering if the glitter polish will poison her. She puts her bare feet up on the dash to admire her tan legs and the blond hair that is so pale and soft she doesn’t have to shave. She wears a Val Surf T-shirt and boys’ boxer shorts and she has a boy’s phone number scrawled on her hand. Part of her wants to spit on it and rub it off, and part of her wishes it was written in huge numbers across her belly, his name in gang letters, like a tattoo. The citrus fruits bouncing off the sidewalk remind her of boys; the burning oil and chlorine, the gold light smouldering on the windy leaves. Boys are shooting baskets on the tarry playground and she thinks she can smell them on the air. And in her pocket, whispering secrets about them, is a Mab.”

Tell me that is not amazing.

The wonderful thing about this book is the way it melds innocence with filth, the way it exposes perfect plastic life for the terribleness it really contains. The book is strong and honest. And I almost love what’s not said as much as what is said. The things between the lines.

This is my first Francesca Lia Block novel. I’m very curious about her Weetzie Bat series.


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