“[A] mesmerizing alchemy of fairy-tale fantasy and Hollywood glitz. . . about an L.A. nanny who uses magic to land the hunk of her dreams.” —People
From the beloved author of Necklace of Kisses comes a modern-day fairy tale of a willful and intuitive heroine and a world of shocking realism and transcendent magic
Francesca Lia Block, with co-writer Carmen Staton, introduces readers to Ruby, a Midwestern girl named for the jewel that is believed to ward off evil spirits. Ruby's special gift is a sixth sense that makes her at one with nature and gives her the ability to know her own destiny.
After growing up in an abusive family, Ruby escapes to Los Angeles and learns of her soulmate -- Orion -- a British actor. She travels to England, where she works at a potions and herbs shop, and through a series of coincidental circumstances, ends up nursing Orion back to health without confessing that she has been on a quest to find him all along. But just when she thinks her dream is becoming a reality, Ruby is stopped in her tracks by the violent demons of her past. Only by facing the darkness together can she and Orion finally fulfill their destiny.
In Ruby, readers will find a story about the power of our minds to overcome the past and ultimately change the course of our lives.
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About the Author
Francesca Lia Block, winner of the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards Award, is the author of many acclaimed and bestselling books, including Weetzie Bat; the book collections Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books and Roses and Bones: Myths, Tales, and Secrets; the illustrated novella House of Dolls; the vampire romance novel Pretty Dead; and the gothic werewolf novel The Frenzy. Her work is published around the world.
Read an Excerpt
By Francesca Block
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Francesca Block
All right reserved.
the island of the animals
My first memory
I am three years old. I want Opal to play with me but she doesn't want to. I keep going to her bedroom, pestering her mercilessly, but she won't listen. So I go to the den in the basement, where my parents are watching television. The only light is from the TV screen. There are no windows down here. The air smells dusty. My sister has followed me.
Eighteen years later, and here, in my mind, it is all still happening.
My father leaps over the back of the couch and grabs Opal by her hair.
He punches her in the face.
My mother jumps on my father, screaming and hitting him, trying to pry his hands off Opal's throat. He knocks my mom into the wall. A chair topples over. He is still strangling my sister. I can see her pinned to the ground. I can see her eyes.
I don't remember why he stops. He just stops. He lies calmly back down on the couch and orders my sister to go play with me.She is still on the floor, sobbing. I can hear the pressure of his fingers in the sound of her voice.
I am watching all of this, standing right here, filled with rage and disgust, but also completely separate. Then a rushing, sucking sensation, as if my soul has just dropped downinto my body for the first time.
And now I know who I am.
I am Ruby. I am three. I have decided.I will fight back.
During my childhood, I had what my mother called a wild imagination. My father called me a liar. Ironic, isn't it, coming from him. What I was -- I was a survivor.
In the middle of the lake there was a small island. I took my boat there every day. An old white mare carried me through the woods where each tree held a small wooden house supported and concealed in its branches. The air was decked with the scent of flowers I'd never seen before. Their fragrance was almost visible; it made my head spin.
We came to a large mansion. It was like some kind of plantation home, white with black shutters, columns, a wraparound porch with big rocking chairs and wooden palm-leaf fans. Quirky contraptions for using the natural energy of the sun and wind. All the plants in the overgrown garden had healing properties if you knew how to use them. Inside the house, the animals roamed free. They had been rescued from their abusive homes. A parrot with its eyeball burned out by a cigarette butt. An ocelot that had been declawed and whipped until it could barely walk. Lizards smuggled from their native habitats, crammed together inside of tiny boxes so that their frills had broken off. I spent the day with the animals. They sat on my shoulders and in my lap. I fed them berries and sang to them. I never wanted to leave.
But back I went to sit at my parents' table, watching my father clenching his cigarette, dropping ashes on the linen.
Once, my fingers got in the way. When he burned me with the cigarette he insisted it was accidental.
At least I was safe in my mind, though. I knew the animals were waiting for me. . . .
There was a bog behind my friend Amy's house. I spent hours there, feeling the squishy earth between my toes, lying on my stomach near the water's edge watching the toads mate and lay their eggs. The males mounted the females, who expelled eggs into the mud. Then the toads all left. The eggs hatched into tadpoles, and I dropped peat moss onto the water's surface to see the frenzied black squiggles feed.
Over the spring, I watched them grow legs, become toads, too. My own private lesson in evolution.
Sometimes, at twilight, I saw bright, eerie sparks just beneath the shallow marsh water. Eyes. The creatures were slicked with mud and they spoke in soft, guttural whispers. I wondered, would they evolve, become girls like me, or were they what I would become if I chose never to leave?
"They know all about us," I said, watching my father swallow his meat at the opposite end of the long table. We were the only ones there.
"Eat your food, Ruby."
He scraped his chair back and left the room. I sat waiting, motionless, gripping my knife. When he came back, he was holding a yardstick. He reached out and, very slowly, tapped me on the top of the head with the end of the stick.
I always loved trees. I couldn't stop touching them. Sometimes I rubbed my hands with the residue from their leaves and sniffed my fingers to calm myself as I fell asleep at night. I started climbing as soon as I was tall enough to reach the lowest branches. And there was one tree I loved most of all.
He was old and strong. Large, low branches spread out like a cupped hand with the fingers open. I could climb halfway to the top and not worry that my weight was too much for him. We talked many times, until we could understand each other's words. Old man tree. He said that not all trees are men, only a few, most are women. He told me how the years had passed for him, not years like ours, just passages of time based on growth and weather. I never fully understood the system but I listened, and I told him my secrets. I told him about the one hundred books I'd read that summer, running back and forth to the library to win the local contest. I told him the stories I'd made up.
"What's the difference?" he asked.
"The man beating the child. The woman in the sky who makes a man from the pieces of her body she loses each night."
Excerpted from Ruby by Francesca Block Copyright © 2006 by Francesca Block. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
After growing up in an abusive family where she learns she can take nothing for granted, Ruby escapes to Los Angeles to work as a nanny for the Martins, a well-connected family with two young children. Through her employers, Ruby learns of the existence of her soulmate—Orion Woolf—a handsome British actor whose mysterious disappearance is the talk of the entertainment industry.
In an effort to draw closer to Orion's world, Ruby travels to his rural home in England, where she finds work at a potions and herbs shop owned by his mother, Isabelle. Through a series of coincidences, Ruby winds up nursing Orion back to health without confessing the true reason for her presence in his town. But just when she thinks her dream is becoming a reality, Ruby is stopped in her tracks by the violent demons of her past. Only by facing the darkness together can she and Orion finally fulfill their destiny.
Questions for Discussion
QUESTION: 1. What does the opening scene of the novel suggest about the boy's relationship with his mother, and how does this scene become more significant later on when his identity is revealed?
QUESTION: 2. How does Ruby's victimization in childhood by her father affect her development as a young woman?
QUESTION: 3. To what extent does Ruby's awareness of the world around her shift back and forth between reality and fantasy, and how did you experience these shifts as a reader?
QUESTION: 4. How would you describe Ruby's relationship with Steven, and how significant to their relationship is his having been a part of her life when she was abused as a child?
QUESTION: 5. Why do Orion's biological parents conceal the truth of his parentage until he is thirteen, and how does that knowledge ultimately affect him?
QUESTION: 6. What propels Ruby to search out Orion's childhood home? Why does she feel he is her soulmate before she has even met him?
QUESTION: 7. What enables Ruby to heal Orion, and how does her transformation of him change the nature of their relationship?
QUESTION: 8. To what extent is Isabelle Woolf responsible for her son's involvement with Ruby? How would you characterize her powers as an herbalist?
QUESTION: 9. Why does Ruby remain terrified of her father after his death, and how does Orion enable her to overcome that fear?
QUESTION: 10. Ruby closes with a scene involving Ruby and her older sister, Opal. How does Opal connect Ruby to the magic that has protected her since childhood?