Thursday, August 11, 2011

Small Persons with Wings

They call themselves the Parvi Pennati.  Whatever you do, don't call them fairies (they hate to be called fairies).  They may be minuscule, but they are temperamental, and making them mad could result in serious injury.  This makes life difficult if you're a member of the family that is the guardian of these fairies S.P.W.W.s.  And life is already difficult enough for Mellie Turpin. With these ingredients, Ellen Booraem has concocted a delightfully witty tale of magic, adventure, and middle school attitude. It is one of those books that older readers will love as well.  (I did.)
Summary (from Ellen Booraem's website):
Thirteen-year-old Mellie Turpin once declared to her kindergarten class that she had a fairy living in her bedroom. But before she could bring him in for show-and-tell, he disappeared. Years later, she is still trying to live it down, taunted mercilessly by classmates who call her “Fairy Fat.” Her imagination got her into this. She’s determined to keep it turned off. When her parents inherit an inn and the family moves to a new town, Mellie sees a chance to finally leave all that fairy nonsense behind. Little does she know that the inn is overrun guessed it.  Oh brother. There's no such thing as fairies, she keeps telling herself. And if there were, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. Right?

Mellie is an intelligent, sarcastic, prickly character with a wonderful voice.  She is rather unlikable at points, but she is also a sympathetic character.  Mellie has been tormented by her classmates since Kindergarten for being overweight and affirming she once a fairy lived in her bedroom.  When her parents call Fidius, her fairy, an imaginary friend in front the school counselor Mellie decides her imagination will make her crazy.  So she builds up a wall of protection around herself of art history and science facts.  She resists reading imagination stimulating books.  So she is ill equipped to deal with the entire nation of Parvi that show up at her late grandfather's inn, the fact that her parents knew about their relationship to the Parvi, and the knowledge that Fidius was real,  not to mention the boy next door who actually wants to befriend her (first time that's ever happened). 

The way Mellie told this story her in her supercilious and unapologetically cynical tone hooked me from the beginning.  I imagine members of the target audience for the book will revel in her attitude.  Any age reader can identify with her feelings of isolation and her resultant outlook on life.  I really felt that her voice was genuine.  She is intelligent so she knows big words.  Sometimes she sounds very grown up and mature, at other times, young and childish.  Exactly like a typical 13 year old.  She love her parents but is often embarrassed by them and doesn't always respect them. She often thinks she knows more than they do.  Again, exactly like a typical 13 year old. 

The S.P.W.W.s are fantastically depicted as a miniature version of the court at Versailles.  They are vain, self-consumed, obsessed with appearance, love to play "jokes", and heartlessly cruel to those who don't live up to their standards.  Durindana, the S.P.W.W. Mellie has the most contact with, has been ostracized for not being able to do one kind of magic well.  She likes to drown her sorrows in fine Bourbon.

The other characters are quirky and interesting as well.

The story is quick paced most of the time.  There are a couple of scenes where a lot of history and explanation of the Parvi, their magic and their relationship to the Turpins are dumped on the reader but they don't detract from the overall excitement of the story.

The insidiousness of bullying is a major theme of the novel.  Mellie and Durindana are both victims of bullying by peers.  There are two other characters that are also the victims of parental bullying.  The effects and unfairness of such treatment on a person, even if it seems funny are shown.  The obliviousness of others to the what is happening is also accurately represented.  All of this is done with a light touch and woven seamlessly into the story being told.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and highly recommend it.  I also agree with the many people who have compared it to the works of Diana Wynne Jones. (Charlotte at Charlotte's Library, Betsy at Fuse 8, and Monica at Educating Alice)

Note on Content:  There is a prank played on Mellie when she is in seventh grade involving a tampon. Mellie often makes allusions to people swearing but uses the PG version of the words (although she makes it clear those are not the versions actually being used).   Also, the tone of the book is highly sarcastic and might be lost on a younger advanced reader.  

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