Narrator Gretchen Yee will grab readers from the first page with her snappy commentary. Even at her Manhattan arts high school, she's a misfit. But the comic-book obsessed artist gets an unexpected chance to live as an alter ego when, for a week, she turns into a literal fly on the wall, trapped inside the boys' locker room. Lockhart (The Boyfriend List) sets up a clever parallel by making Gretchen's class read The Metamorphosis, and-like Kafka's protagonist-it is unclear what caused Gretchen's change (she suspects a philosophical old man she met on the subway, or a strange soda she drank on the way to school, among other things). Her sense of humor offsets her generally negative outlook, and the pace picks up during her time as a fly. As Gretchen buzzes around hundreds of naked bodies, she witnesses a lot of locker room drama, and worries about the morality of spying even as she categorizes their bums or describes an uncircumcised penis. She also realizes how insecure boys can be (she even learns that confidence is not always what makes someone sexy-sometimes, as in the case of her crush-its just the opposite). The conclusion wraps a bit neatly (and without much introspection), but readers will find enough thoughtful material here to keep buzzing through the pages. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - KLIATT Review
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, March 2006: Paying homage to both Kafka and Spider-Man, Lockhart's latest answers the question that most teenage girls ask: What do guys really do in the locker room? Gretchen Yee is an ordinary girl in a school for extraordinary students, the Manhattan School for Art and Music. She's mostly a loner whose love for comics is evident in her artwork, much to the dismay of her art teacher. Gretchen tries to stretch her wings, but she's tied down by everything else going on in her life--her crush on the boy who doesn't notice her, her best friend's constant busyness, and most of all, the separation of her parents. Part One: Life as an Artificial Redhead is the story of Gretchen the outsider whose father has moved out and whose mother takes off for a trip. Part Two: Life as a Vermin is the story of Gretchen, the fly who is trapped in the boys' locker room where she sees everything (yes, everything), and finally starts to understand the social hierarchy of the male species. In Part Three: Life as a Super Hero, Gretchen wakes up as herself, but better, and suddenly life looks a lot different. A fun and fast read, Fly on the Wall gives readers a peek behind the closed doors of male adolescence. Age Range: Ages 12 to 18. REVIEWER: Michele Winship (Vol. 42, No. 1)
At Manhattan High School for the Arts, where everyone prides themself on being different, Gretchen feels ordinary. The most radical thing she has ever done was dye her hair red. Then she wishes she could be a fly on the wall of the boy's locker room. The next morning, she wakes up with her wish granted. For one week, Gretchen is privy to all that goes on in the boy's locker room. At first she sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime: to check out all the boys naked. Nevertheless, as this becomes old she begins to observe the social politics of boys when there are no girls or teachers around. She learns an immense amount about the various boys she knows, boys in general, and about herself. While Lockhart has an interesting plot premise, great style, and a very engaging narrator, her basic story execution is sloppy. Gretchen is a very interesting character, but two-thirds of the book is her observing, not doing. Lockhart also ignores a fundamental rule of fantasy: it must make sense. When Gretchen turns into a fly for a week, neither her parents or the school (a small one, at that) seem particularly concerned. Gretchen is never concerned about turning back into a girl and does not even mention what she eats as a fly. The story is interesting, nevertheless, especially for girls who always wonder what boys DO, do in the locker room. 2006, Delacorte Press/Random House, Ages 12 up.
Amie Rose Rotruck
Kafka serves as muse in Lockhart's newest effort that shares only some of the themes in common with Metamorphosis. Instead Lockhart takes a swat at comedy when student artist Gretchen Yee magically transforms into a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room in the private Manhattan school for the arts which she attends. While morphed, Gretchen analyzes and compares the various gherkins present-and she certainly is not talking about pickles-for nearly a third of the book. Thankfully Gretchen experiences a metamorphosis of her own. Lockhart examines the theme of individuality through Gretchen's revelation that it is still possible to express herself within the comic style of drawing that she loves so much; of tolerance when Titus, Gretchen's love interest, announces that his dad is gay; of family duty when Gretchen gains the wisdom to accept her parents' divorce; and of courage when Gretchen finally asks Titus out on a date. Although entertaining at first, the humor wears thin after about ten pages. Frank dialogue and witty food metaphors in place of actual body-part names-biscuits for breasts for example-provide a chuckle here and there. The occasional use of profanity rings true coming from students in an urban high school. Lockhart obviously intends to target older high school teens, as evidenced by her allusion to Kafka, and while certainly an interesting tribute to him, this work of chick lit may create slightly less of a buzz. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Delacorte, 182p., and PLB Ages 12 to 18.
Erin K. Kilby
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Gretchen Yee, 16, feels painfully ordinary in a school where everyone is an overachiever. Teachers at The Manhattan School for Art and Music don't appreciate her artistic skill, and she feels like she doesn't fit in with the students. She longs to understand what others think of her, and her wish to be a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room comes true. She spends a week there observing her classmates, learning and seeing more than she ever expected. In addition to humorously discovering the mysteries of male anatomy, the teen sees the casual cruelty of her ex-boyfriend, and that her best friend sacrifices her own happiness to keep from upsetting her. She also discovers that there are boys who like her and some who are hiding painful secrets. With this knowledge, Gretchen gains confidence, which ultimately allows her to be a better person. When the insect character emerges, Lockhart's writing style moves from prose to near poetry as she weaves in and out of Gretchen's mind. This technique allows readers to know what the protagonist is thinking, keeps the pace of the quickly moving story, and suspends disbelief with the very absurd concept. Although containing some strong language and mature situations, this novel is a good choice for teens who are unsure of their place in the world, including reluctant readers.-Stephanie L. Petruso, Anne Arundel County Public Library, Odenton, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
While many kids may feel ignored and invisible, Gretchen actually becomes a fly and spends her insect life in the locker room of the boys' gym. Fortunately for readers, the first section of the story introduces her so-called normal life as an art student at Manhattan High School for the Arts. Coming from a blended family that is rapidly disintegrating into separate quarters for each parent, Gretchen finds comfort in her drawings of comics, especially Spidey. She suffers from a crush on Titus, another Art Rat, and her homework assignment of Kafka's "Metamorphosis." Time spent as a fly watching boys change into and out of gym clothes gives Gretchen a perspective that no other girl has on the boys' real characters, their hairy behinds and the nitty-gritty of certain puzzles, such as Titus's self-consciousness about his gay parents. Rather than focusing on the hocus-pocus of being an insect, it's all about the new point of view. Unresolved are the issues from when two boys get beat up by a bully, but Gretchen emerges to make some changes in herself and her world as a result of her new perspective. Fine fun for fans of both Kafka and Spiderman. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
Praise for fly on the wall:
“I think this might be the best YA novel…I’ve ever read. It’s hilarious, and it’s so very smart. I mean, I’m serious…It’s really amazing.”—John Green, author of the New York Times bestseller The Fault in Our Stars
“A super-smart, super-sweet, and super-fantastic read.”—Sarah Mlynowski, author of Don’t Even Think About It
“With an appropriate nod and wink to Kafka, this unexpectedly sharp comedy charts its own metamorphosis.”—The Horn Book Magazine
“Fast-paced, hysterically funny, and a pleasure to read.”—Teenreads.com
“Fine fun for fans of both Kafka and Spider-Man.”—Kirkus Reviews
IRA Young Adult Book Choice
Read an Excerpt
Fly on the Wall
By E. Lockhart
Random House E. Lockhart
All right reserved.
I am eating alone in the lunchroom.
Ever since Katya started smoking cigarettes, she's hanging out back by the garbage cans, lighting up with the Art Rats. She bags her lunch, so she takes it out there and eats potato chips in a haze of nicotine.
I hate smoking, and the Art Rats make me nervous. So here I am: in my favorite corner of the lunchroom, sitting on the floor with my back against the wall. I'm eating fries off a tray and drawing my own stuff-not anything for class.
Dull point; must sharpen pencil.
Hell! Pencil dust in fries.
Whatever. They still taste okay.
KA-POW! Spider-Man smacks Doctor Octopus off the edge of the building with a swift kick to the jaw. Ock's face contorts as he falls backward, his metal tentacles flailing with hysterical fear. He has an eighty-story fall beneath him, and-
Spidey has a great physique. Built, but not too built. Even if I did draw him myself.
I think I made his butt too small.
I wish I had my pink eraser, I don't like this white one.
Connecting to: leg . . . and . . . quadriceps.
There. A finished Spidey outline. I have to add the suit. And some shadowing. Andthe details of the building. Then fill in the rest of Doc Ock as he hurtles off the edge.
Mmmm. French fries.
Hell again! Ketchup on Spidey.
Lick it off.
Cammie Holmes is staring at me like I'm some lower form of life.
"What are you looking at?" I mutter.
"Then. Stop. Staring," I say, sharpening my pencil again, though it doesn't need it.
This Cammie is all biscuits. She's stacked like a character in a comic book. Cantaloupes are strapped to her chest.
Her only redeeming quality.
"Why are you licking your Superman drawing?" Cammie tips her nose up. "That's so kinky. I mean, I've heard of licking a centerfold, but licking Superman?"
"Whatever. Get a life, Gretchen."
She's gone. From across the lunchroom comes her nasal voice: "Taffy, get this: I just caught Gretchen Yee giving oral to some Superman drawing she made."
Spider. Spider. Spider-Man.
"She would." Taffy Johnson. Stupid tinkly laugh.
Superman is a big meathead. I'd never draw Superman. Much less give him oral.
I haven't given anybody oral, anyway.
I hate those girls.
Taffy is doing splits in the middle of the lunchroom floor, which is just gross. Who wants to see her crotch like that? Though of course everybody does, and even if they didn't, she wouldn't care because she's such a unique spirit or whatever.
I hate those girls, and I hate this place: the Manhattan High School for the Arts. Also known as Ma-Ha.
Supposedly, it's a magnet high school for students talented in drawing, painting, sculpture or photography. You have to submit a portfolio to get in, and when I did mine (which was all filled with inks of comic-book characters I taught myself to draw in junior high) and when I finally got my acceptance letter, my parents were really excited. But once you're here, it's nothing but an old, ugly New York public school building, with angry teachers and crap facilities like any other city public school-except I've got drawing class every day, painting once a week and art history twice. I'm in the drawing program.
Socially, Ma-Ha is like the terrible opposite of the schools you see on television, where everyone wants to be the same as everyone else. On TV, if you don't conform and wear what the popular kids are wearing, and talk like they talk, and act like they do-then you're a pariah.
Here, everyone wants to be different.
People have mohawks and dreadlocks and outrageous thrift-store clothes; no one would be caught dead in ordinary jeans and a T-shirt, because they're all so into expressing their individuality. A girl from the sculpture program wears a sari every day, even though her family's Scandinavian. There's that kid who's always got that Pink Panther doll sticking out of her jacket pocket; the boy who smokes using a cigarette holder like they did in forties movies; a girl who's shaved her head and pierced her cheeks; Taffy, who does Martha Graham-technique modern dance and wears her leotard and sweats all day; and Cammie, who squeezes herself into tight goth outfits and paints her lips vampire red.
They all fit in here, or take pride in not fitting in, if that makes any sense-and if you're an ordinary person you've got to do something at least, like dye your hair a strange color, because nothing is scorned so much as normalcy. Everyone's a budding genius of the art scene; everyone's on the verge of a breakthrough. If you're a regular-looking person with regular likes and dislikes and regular clothes,
and you can draw so it looks like the art in a comic book,
but you can't "express your interior life on the page," according to Kensington (my drawing teacher),
and if you can't "draw what you see, rather than imitate what's in that third-rate trash you like to read" (Kensington again),
then you're nothing at Ma-Ha.
Nothing. That's me.
Gretchen Kaufman Yee. Ordinary girl.
Two months ago I capitulated to nonconformity-conformity and had my hair bleached white and then dyed stop-sign red. It cost sixty dollars and it pissed off my mother, but it didn't work.
I'm still ordinary.
Excerpted from Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart Excerpted by permission.
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