Once upon a time stories were magic. Storytellers spun words into gossamer-soft webs, capturing the imagination of their listeners, transforming those lives with tales that shimmered golden but also held bottomless, frightening mystery. Once upon a time, fairy tales had the power to change lives, because they embodied both the dark and light in our worlds and in our psyches. Storytellers didn't merely entertain their audiences...they invited listeners on journeys.
Francesca Lia Block reawakens the ancient power of storytelling in her
latest novel, I Was a Teenage Fairy. Anyone who giggled over her
slinkster-cool Weetzie Bat stories about hip, savvy young adults in Los
Angeles will be mesmerized by the grace in this new work. It's gritty,
hilarious, edgy, and dangerous in all the right ways.
Though also set in Shangri-LA, I Was a Teenage Fairy leaves Weetzie,
Secret Agent Lover Man, Cherokee Bat, and some of their friends in the dust. In
this new novel, readers will visit a different realm -- a world dusky in
ways reminiscent of The Hanged Man, alienated as only Witch Baby could be, lonesome like La from Girl Goddess #9: Nine Stories. Put simply, the deeper and darker Block goes, the better she gets, and I Was a Teenage Fairy reveals the wisdom she -- as storyteller -- has won by her own brave journeys into the more confusing and complicated zones of adolescence.
"Maybe Mab was real. Maybe she was the fury, the courage, the sex."
On the shimmering surface, I Was a Teenage Fairy is the story of how
Barbie responds to her mother, who -- much like an impatient child forcing her
Barbie doll back into its case -- dresses, parades, and stuffs Barbie into
a too-early career of modeling. Barbie hates modeling. Her mother
doesn't care. She blindly pursues fame and even refuses to protect Barbie when a
photographer molests her. Frankly, the more zombielike Barbie becomes,
the better her mother likes it. After all, models just have to look good.
They don't need to think or say anything.
Barbie might have given into her mother's plan. She might have
extinguished the quiet flutter of rage and humor that still beat its wings
against the cage of her heart. Barbie might have drowned her imagination
and hope. She might have done all of those things if she had never met
Mab -- an opinionated, hormone-driven, lively fairy who sparkled into Barbie's
world one night.
"Maybe there really are girls the size of pinkies with hair the color of
the darkest red oleander blossoms and skin like the greenish-white
underbellies of calla lilies... But it doesn't matter if Mab is real or
imagined, Barbie thought, as long as I can see her."
Here is the magic that Block weaves. Over and over again in her books,
Francesca Lia Block shows how lives are transformed when people (Weetzie,
Dirk, Duck, Witch Baby, La, and others) listen to the quiet voice of truth
inside themselves, when people trust love. In a recent interview, Block
said: "I think, when you express yourself in writing, the things that you
believe in come through all on their own. I believe that love and art are
Never before, though, has she woven a story that so deeply probes the
mystery of the Muse. In I Was a Teenage Fairy, it becomes achingly clear
that Barbie's survival depends on Mab -- a rowdy little sparkle, a secret
friend that no one else can see. Mab helps Barbie believe in herself and
see the truth about the people around her. Yet, hanging out with Mab
isn't easy. A far cry from fuzzy Tinkerbell, Mab is impatient, mean
sometimes, and -- well -- honesty stings. Mab embodies both light and dark,
hope and danger. She's unpredictable, but life-giving too...just like
the creative sparks within us all.
Block encourages us to trust that unpredictable spark. Recently, the
author discussed her own dances with the Muse: "Writing feels like
dreaming to me. Rather than trying to make it happen, the stories and characters
are already there, and I just go inside it all."
When asked if she ever gets afraid of what she will find when she enters
that realm, Block says, "No. Actually, I get more scared when I am not in
that place. It's the safest place I can go. No matter how dark it gets
there, no matter how hard or uncomfortable it gets.... In fact, I remember
that, when I was writing Missing Angel Juan, I was stuck in my apartment
with some health problems. It was very painful to be writing that story
because it explores such dark themes, but it was more painful to not be
Like Barbie, Block trusts the Mab who visits her. She allows herself to
believe in things unseen. Francesca Lia Block gives in to the Muse's
enchantment, entering willingly into the power of the story. I Was a Teenage Fairy is a richly complex tale, spun bravely by a storyteller
unafraid of the bottomless, frightening mystery that some stories reveal.
With this novel, Block invites us all on a journey to discover our own
Mabs -- or, at the very least, to befriend the hidden parts of ourselves.
Cathy Young, barnesandnoble.com
Unique language and characters turn a problem novel into romantic comedy in this tale of a molested Valley teenager and her sharp-tongued, pinky-sized companion. Groomed relentlessly for the role of beauty pageant queen, meek Barbie Marks makes a fierce wish, and meets a fairy named Mab; despite the gossamer wings and a "glimmersome twinkle," Mab could eat Tinkerbelle for lunch. An irascible, challenging confidante, she is still around five years later when Barbie, a successful fashion model, meets Todd Range, a real "biscuit" in Mab's approving estimation, made even more appealing by his meltingly vulnerable roommate Griffin Tyler. Time-honored complications ensue, but Barbie's ultimate realization that Todd is The One gives her the courage to confront her domineering mother with the fact of her molestation by a photographer years before. Cut to Barbie (now Selena Moon, a new name to go with her newly independent spirit) and Todd in a cozy love nest, with Mab, having found a biscuit for Griffin, and even one for herself, bidding fond adieu. Block (Girl Goddess #9, 1996, etc.) conjures up some sympathy for Barbie's mother, and even for the photographer, but lines between heroes and villains are deliberately drawn, and the book, with its live-wire sprite, is as bright and focused as anything she has written. (Fiction. 13-15)