Friday, June 20, 2008

Blood Roses

I absolutely love Francesca Lia Block. Every time a new book is set to come out, I await it with the greatest of anticipation. The moment it's in my hot little hands, I devour the new book within a matter of hours, and often re-read it several times. I just love being in the world FLB (as I like to call her) has created. FLB is all about magical realism--stories set in the "real world" with fantastic or magical elements imbuing them. Combining the beautiful and the fantastic, FLB also writes of heartbreak and loss (often the death of a loved one, very often the loss of a love). Her stories are mixtures of elation and despair, usually set in L.A. and featuring kids who aren't mainstream but tend to favor bright pink hair, combat boots, and lace. In 2005 FLB won the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association for lifetime contribution to young adult literature. I can't say enough good things about her work.

Her newest book is Blood Roses, a slim collection of nine very short, very beautifully written stories. At first I was dismayed to see the shortness of the collection, knowing I would inhale it in an hour or less. (This proved to be true.) But FLB does so much with so few pages. These stories, several featuring characters that appear in more than one tale, are all about transformation. In fact, FLB has dedicated Blood Roses "for all of you. . .willing to transform." My favorite story was "Skin Art" about a girl who falls in love with an older tattoo artist and wakes up one day to find herself mysteriously tattooed, visual evidence of her passion for the artist. In another story, a girl discovers an angel with his wings ripped off, takes him home, and becomes dependent on him as a fixture in her life.

What was clear about FLB's most current book is how much metaphor magical realism contains. Some readers won't get this. I think you either love FLB or you don't get her at all. Her new collection is full of subtleties, the lines between reality and fantasy blurring all the time. I had to read "My Haunted House" twice before I understood that a death in the narrator's family had occurred, and that when she speaks of "my" haunted house, she means not just the doll house in her bedroom but her full-sized house, her home, her family. This loss, the haunting feeling that death leaves in its wake manifests itself as a haunting in the narrator's childhood dollhouse. But FLB is telling more than a straight-forward ghost story; she is talking about the ramifications of loss on an entire family. In another, a girl's mother is a "vampire." But how literal is this? What exactly happens in this story--and in several--are a matter of interpretation. It will bug some readers that the stories appear to end abruptly and aren't always black and white. I loved it. It gave me room to think about what FLB was saying and to imagine beyond the story.
Read for yourself and see. Enter the beautiful, poignant, and hopeful world of FLB. This collection is a good place to start.

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