Francesca Lia Block,
I Was a Teenage Fairy
(HarperCollins, 1998)

Francesca Lia Block established herself as a writer with a difference 10 years ago with the publication of her slim young adult novel Weetzie Bat, a book set in a kind of fairy-tale version of Los Angeles. Four more novels with the same characters followed. Her most recent effort, I Was a Teenage Fairy, follows in a similar vein but is grounded more in a semblance of reality, although the larger-than-life aspects are still present.

Barbie Marks, daughter of a former beauty queen whose career never took off, is living out her mother's dreams. (Yes, she's named for the doll.) She encounters Mab when she is 11, a sassy smart-mouthed girl with wings no bigger than her pinky. Mab is a comfort to Barbie, a bit of magic in her world of domineering mothers and pedophile photographers.

At 16, Barbie is established as a teen model, still accompanied by Mab. She would rather be on the other side of the camera taking pictures, but lacks the drive to defy her mother and pursue that dream. She hooks up with actor Todd Range, who gives her love and attention and shows her how to play, and whose friend Griffin shares a terrible bond with Barbie.

It is impossible to describe the plot without pressing it flatter than one of Lady Cottington's fairies, but all the threads come together into a fairy-tale ending, from the gritty nasty thread of child abuse to the sparkling magical thread Mab provides. The book is a fairy tale where a heroine goes on a quest, accompanied by a magical creature, and defeats the giant, then is paired with the handsome prince.

The writing is lovely, full of images that appeal to all the senses and a compelling plot. The happy fairy-tale ending falters just a bit in its patness, and I find it disturbing that Block, in spite of her character's rejection of the world of fashion (and, one assumes, her own), chose to make all the "good" characters physically beautiful and all the "bad" characters physically unattractive. While in keeping with fairy-tale convention, it is a flaw nonetheless.

Still, Block's thesis that we all have Mabs and it's up to us whether they stick around is irresistible to those who like to think there's something more to the world beyond what the eye can see, and indeed, not a bad idea at all.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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