Monday, July 13, 2009

Review of The Waters & the Wild by Francesca Lia Block

Block, Francesca Lia. The Waters & the Wild. HarperTeen, 2009.

Most teenagers feel like misfits at least occasionally. Whether you’re a neat freak in a household full of slobs or a dark and brooding person in a household of sunny souls, every one of you once and current teens has had a moment – or several years – of being certain that you don’t belong in your family.

Which brings us to the irresistible allure of changeling fiction. What better explanation could there be for this glorious fey person living with a family of lumpen sods? And of course there are usually gifts and talents associated with being a changeling, anything from otherworldly beauty to heightened senses to magical powers. True, there is usually a downside – if the humans around you aren’t trying to kill you, then your human counterpart in the land of faerie is trying to get his or her life back.

And of course no one completely understands you.

And thus it is with 13-year-old Bee, who lives with her perfectly nice mom and stepdad in a nifty little beach bungalow in Venice, CA (my own town!). And yet – she is troubled. She has odd dreams and visions, is stick-straight (but eerily beautiful), is attracted to plants and dirt but can’t eat meat and doesn’t want to eat much else. Friends? Ha!

Luckily, Bee does find a couple other oddballs at her middle school – she even does teen-type things like crash the party of the local meangirl and hang out all night with her friends at the park – but this only makes more clear to Bee where she really belongs, which is in the fairy world. And the human Bee wants her own life back and is determined to have it. Because their desires are in accord, things turn out just fine – and though Bee’s two new friends lose her, they gain each other.

At 113 pages, this is a slim and mystical novel. The short scenes and occasional fairy poetry make for a fast, although occasionally confusing, read. The narration is sometimes distant, sometimes swollen with intensity – much like a 13-year-old, come to think of it. Although much of this story would appeal to 10 and 11-year-olds, be warned that condoms and sex are mentioned (nothing graphic – after Bee says to her mom, “No, I’m all right. I think I’m just over-stimulated or something,” her mom says, “Do you want to explain that one to me? Do we need to take you to buy some condoms?” And Bee comments that she knows some of her friends have had sex.) Bee's blossoming friendship with two strange and unique kids is understandable, special, and wonderfully described.

Due to its brevity and starkness, this fantasy isn’t completely satisfying; I wanted to know more. However, Francesca Lia Block is not only an expert at mystical teen alienation, but also is a writer of lovely prose. Recommended for fey kids in grades 6 – 8.

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