Leonora (Leo) is an Italian Asian American teen-ager with a rotten attitude and a genius I.Q. Thrown out of twelve schools and fluent in as many languages, she's sent to live with her grandmother in the Philippines, where she spends all her time in a computer environment called Apeiron - a parasitic virtual reality program which drove its mad creator to dive headlong into a gorge. Only in Apeiron can Leo shed the awkward body of an adolescent girl and emerge in the persona of Fergus, the warrior; only in Apeiron...
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Leonora (Leo) is an Italian Asian American teen-ager with a rotten attitude and a genius I.Q. Thrown out of twelve schools and fluent in as many languages, she's sent to live with her grandmother in the Philippines, where she spends all her time in a computer environment called Apeiron - a parasitic virtual reality program which drove its mad creator to dive headlong into a gorge. Only in Apeiron can Leo shed the awkward body of an adolescent girl and emerge in the persona of Fergus, the warrior; only in Apeiron can she hobnob with Socrates and John Lennon. But one day the only boy she's ever liked disappears, and Leo, in a quest to rescue him, finds herself lured into the program's computer generated hell. A post-modern tilt at Alice in Wonderland, a computer-age Huckleberry Finn, leo@fergusrules.com is above all the story of a young woman's search for the lost world of her ancestors in a society in which technology has replaced community.

Arne Tangherlini received his A.B. in History and Literature from Harvard and his M.A. from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He was a teacher for many years both in the Philippines and the United States and the co-author of Smart Kids: How Academic Talents are Nurtured and Developed in America.

"Leo @ fergusrulesrules.com is a fantastical coming of age story about a brainy, racially mixed teenage girl…who spends much of her spare time in her bedroom, jacked into a cyber wonderland called Apeiron. This computer-generated 3-D world is a timeless landscape, home to a historical line-up of digitally re-created dignitaries, such as Confucius, Julius Caesar and Napoleon… She also encounters relatives and ancestors, including her great aunt, who as a young woman survives being shot by American soldiers in the Philippine American War. Other dangers include pterodactyls with giant Barbie-doll bodies that dump guano and screech, 'Nike, Guess, Benetton, Levi's! Tommy, Tommy, Tommy-boy!" and a child-steamrollering Zamboni that is operated by gnomelike people and has a control room guarded by a three-headed dog. Needless to say, Leo is a trip…a 21st century homage to the works of Argentine poet and author Jorge Luis Borges

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A lonely 14-year-old Filipino-Italian-American girl sets off on a virtual quest in Tangherlini's promising if uneven futuristic debut novel. There is much to like about the boastful, self-loathing first-person narrator, Leo, whose sassiness has gotten her thrown out of 17 different schools around the world. Feeling abandoned by her parents and living under guard in Manila with her ailing, superstitious grandmother Lola Flor, Leo spends her free time online, battling the forces of evil in the virtual land of Apeiron as her male alter ego, Fergus (inspired by William Butler Yeats's poem, "Who Goes with Fergus"). Before the reader is given a chance to become immersed in Leo's troubled real teenage life, she ducks into her computer: "Whenever I made a fool of myself in school or at home," she writes, "I went to Apeiron to start over." An electronic black hole, called Dlin, has swallowed a file containing her online kindred spirit, Bri, and with the help of the bumbling monk Fra Umberto, Leo heads out to find Bri and bring him back. The rest of the novel is an account of Leo's meandering odyssey to many strange lands, where she encounters Aristotle and Socrates (in a wax museum), gargoyles and former classmates and teachers. Ultimately, she lands in the furnace fueling a fantastic Zamboni ice-cleaning machine, peopled by tiny people much like "duwendes," mythical creatures described to her by her grandmother. Leo's final epiphany is an unsurprising one--she realizes her "strangeness" is caused by her isolation--but Tangherlini's creative use of dream imagery and his appealing narrator redeem his unusual short novel. A moving afterword by Pagan Kennedy is a eulogy to the author, who died three weeks before the book was accepted for publication. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Leo is an above average teenager—way above average. Because of her intelligence and computer skill, she is able to explore worlds only dreamed about by such writers as Dante, Umberto Eco, and Lewis Carroll. As Leo dons her virtual reality helmet, she is thrown into a cyberworld populated by a fat monk guide, students at an absurd clown college where everyone foolishly subscribes to the same four tenets, and a child-freezing Zamboni guarded by a three-headed dog. Leo's purpose for entering this virtual world is to find a friend who is lost within its depths. What she finally discovers is a new appreciation for the real world in which she lives, noting, "No virtual wind ever blew like this one." Tangherlini has invented a story that even the most ardent fantasy readers will struggle with. His many allusions will keep them running to the reference books. As he recreates Dante's Hell, he directly or indirectly alludes to philosophers, writers, and many ancient world events. Also peppered throughout his rambling adventure are references to things only teens know and care about, such as Tommy jeans and mall rats. This book will appeal only to the handful of good readers who might not be frustrated by the constant barrage of references to all times and places. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 1999, Leapfrog Press, 216p, $14.95. Ages 16 to Adult. Reviewer: Lynn Evarts

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

Library Journal
Like John Kennedy Toole, Tangherlini's reputation will be established with a posthumous, single novel. Tangherlini succeeds wonderfully with his postmodern coming-of-age story. "Leo," a 14-year-old Asian American girl named Leonora, is thrown out of countless schools before she is sent to live with her grandmother in the Philippines. For entertainment, the young genius cavorts in the virtual reality program Apeiron, role-playing as the warrior Fergus and leaving behind her awkward, adolescent life. Within Apeiron, Leo learns about the computer-generated universe, Dlon. Once within this universe, she attempts to locate a missing boy she likes named Bri. She descends into Dlon's circles of hell, accompanied by Fra Umberto, a Dominican monk, and battles fantastic monsters and demons. Her biggest confrontation, however, will be with herself. Leo@fergusrules.com pays enormous tribute to Dante's Inferno, but Tangherlini has created his own unique and sophisticated masterpeice.--Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Tom LeClair
Suppose you buy wooden dolls nested inside each other. You remove the top half of the outside doll, and the doll within is not smaller but bigger! You open it, and the next doll is even larger. leo@fergusrules.com is like that set of dolls and is a remarkably inventive first novel. Arne Tangherlini’s outside doll is Leonora Caccianemica, a fourteen-year-old Filipina-American who has lived all around the world. When her mother and stepfather can’t get along, Leonora is sent to stay with her aged grandmother, Lola, in the Philippines. Guilty, resentful and confused about gender, Leonora calls herself “Leo” and spends much of her time in a virtual reality game called Apeiron, in which she renames herself Fergus after a king in Celtic mythology.

Leo exchanges e-mail with Bri, a boy she likes at school. When he disappears, Leo believes Apeiron (Greek for “infinity”) holds clues to his whereabouts. Over an Easter weekend, she plugs into the game, discovers a secret environment called Dløn within Apeiron, and spends most of the novel exploring Dløn. Her accidental and episodic “adventures” recall both Huck’s and Alice’s, for Leo often travels by water and confronts realistic enemies (such as leaders of school cliques and mall rats), logical paradoxes (Zeno’s and the Lying Cretan’s) and nightmare beasts. Leo also meets doubles of herself and comes to understand European imperialism in the Philippines, her grandmother’s folk tales, her American grandfather’s rough pragmatism, her father’s ineffectuality and—finally, crucially—her mother’s vulnerability as a child. At journey’s end, Leo disconnects from Dløn, puts on a dress and walks out into the real Philippines.

This coming-of-age story I didn’t believe for more than thirty pages. Although narrator Leo uses teenage slang, she knows too much history to be fourteen, and Tangherlini reveals too many literary influences to be a new J.D. Salinger. The outside doll is a shell, one part of a larger shell game.

Leo’s journey down the river and down the rabbit hole comes to repeat earlier trips to the underworld. Like figures in Greek and Roman myth, Leo crosses to her Hades in a boat. Like Dante, she has an older Italian guide and finds suffering souls beseeching and attacking her. Tangherlini’s “pit” sometimes resembles a fused casino and hypermall, sometimes a spatially impossible M.C. Escher print, but at the bottom is the Inferno’s ice, a skating rink where a Zamboni machine runs over trapped children. And like Dante, Tangherlini uses his hell to mock historical figures (Socrates, contemporary celebrities) and to satirize cultural delusions such as permissive, no-content schools and Harpy-like Barbie dolls shrieking brand names.

But leo@fergusrules.com is not just a hell game. Dløn is a literary construct, a fiction within a fiction inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ story about an imagined land and invented language, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” Borges says that in Tlon, “Works of fiction contain a single plot, with all its imaginable permutations.” Who better to guide Leo through such a world than a librarian named Umberto, modeled on Umberto Eco, collector of ancient lore and author of Travels in Hyperreality? In Dløn, things are becoming signs, people morphing into words and the real turning virtual. Investigating Dløn, going forwards and backwards, experiencing both recognition and cognitive dissonance, Leo is the reader exploring leo@fergusrules.com. She dislikes mirrors, but Tangherlini makes his book a mirror so we can see how we process both fiction and the external world into fictions.

Does the author imply that the reader doll is larger than the doll book the reader opens? It’s a question we’ll never have answered, as unsolvable as the “metaphysical puzzle” of Dløn, because Tangherlini died three weeks before his novel was accepted for publication. leo@fergusrules.com will probably be compared to another first—and, purportedly, last—novel, John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces, the posthumous publication of which preceded that of Toole’s other posthumously published work, The Neon Bible. But leo@fergusrules.com is more fun, more like chess.

Because Tangherlini’s protagonist tumbles into her computer, the novel will also be compared to cyberfictions. But the book is not as electronic as its title or surface qualities suggest.

Like the Grail quest for medieval writers or the unconscious for modernists, the virtual landscape here is mostly a device that lets the author mix materials from his own travels through different cultures and English-language libraries.

leo@fergusrules.com probably needed to be longer to meet the Borgesian test of exhaustive permutations, and to satisfy readers who want emotional involvement with characters. Leo is so busy describing the pop-up figures of Dløn that her responses are frequently perfunctory.

Tangherlini’s take on reader response seems expressed when Leo asks an artist if he’s drawing a fish or a whale. “A decoration,” the artist says. Characters are really only black marks on white pages; dolls are colored paints on wooden shapes. If you don’t mind remembering those truths when you read, leo@fergusrules.com should be a pleasure—and a decoration you can reopen for yourself and friends.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780965457873
  • Publisher: Leapfrog Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 215
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Pagan Kennedy is the author of seven books. The most recent, Black Livingstone, was a New York Times Notable Book and a winner of the Massachusetts Book Award. Her novel Spinsters won a Barnes & Noble Discover Award and was short-listed for Great Britain's Orange Prize. Her articles appear regularly in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, Spin, and Salon.
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