The Blue Girl and Little (Grrl) Lost

I was sick this week with some sort of flu/bronchitis/spider bite/bonebreak fever combination that left me unable to do the one thing I really wanted to do, see Juno, the nearly indescribable comedy that was sold out last time I stopped by the theater. You know how it is when you have a taste for something you can't have; nothing else really does the trick. I moped around rereading some of Dick Francis' excellent mystery novels and watched a rerun of House, moodily wondering why he never comes by to cure me, and finally settled down long enough to read, and thoroughly enjoy, a YA novel by Charles de Lint called The Blue Girl.

Charles de Lint, who has written about a million books and short stories, could be called the father of modern urban fantasy, that interesting type of writing about ordinary people who get caught up in magical circumstances. He's been writing about the intersection of magic and cities since the early 1980s and has won an impressive array of awards, including the World Fantasy Award. His stories invariably show up in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Annual Collections, which is where I first encountered him.

Much of his work takes place in the fictional town of Newford, a place that's not quite in the US and equally not quite in Canada. The Blue Girl takes place in Newford and is told in three intercut points of view, that of Imogene, a girl who just moved to town, Maxine, a local friendless girl who has been branded as a loser nerd, and Adrian, a boy who died at the high school and has been just hanging around for the last few years.

While Imogene and Maxine quickly become fast friends other students aren't so welcoming and start a bullying campaign against Imogene, who ran with a gang at her last school and could easily take care of the twerps at the new school, but wants to put her past behind her and make a good impression on Maxine, so tolerates this behavior for some time. Adrian is impressed with her bravery and falls head over heels, following her all over the school and spending quite a bit of time watching her.

Imogene eventually meets Adrian and is less than impressed when he explains that he isn't actually a suicide; his death was the result of a little accident on the part of the fairies that infest the school. Or maybe it wasn't an accident, maybe it was malicious, he's not quite sure. In an effort to prove to her that fairies exist he agrees to let the fairies invade her dreams and show her how to see them. Unfortunately they do a little bit more and bring her to the attention of creatures that suck the life and soul out of anyone who has a special shine, making them disappear completely. Imogene thinks she might be able to fight back but it will mean Maxine finding out about her delinquent past. Adrian has a plan to save her but it would involve offering a substitute to be devoured in her place. Maxine just wants to save her friend but she's putting her own existence in danger to do it.

This book has many ethical and moral themes running through it; asking questions about when bad deeds are acceptable if they bring about good results. Certainly we've all read books or morality plays where the value of virtuous behavior is slathered on with such a heavy hand that we can't stand to keep reading but Charles de Lint uses such a light touch you may not notice the discussion until the story is over.

Once I finished The Blue Girl I turned my attention to Little (Grrl) Lost, by the same author, set in the same town, published three years later. It's about two very different girls pushed into dangerous and frightening new territory. T.J.'s parents just lost all their money in a stock market crash, forcing them to give up their farm and move to the city, close to where her parents can find new employment. Fourteen-year-old T.J. isn't just leaving her home and friends behind; she also has to say goodbye to her beloved horse Red, companion and transportation all in one. Completely miserable in her news surroundings she's shocked when Elizabeth, a sixteen-year-old six-inch tall girl who is completely fed up with her family walks into her room. Elizabeth has packed her bag and is in the process of running away when she's sighted by T.J., a serious breach of Little protocol. After a rocky start the two become friends but run into serious trouble while researching a legend that says that Elizabeth's people came from birds and have the ability to become birds again. She hitches a ride in T.J.'s backpack and is stolen away when T.J. is mugged outside the bookstore.

The book is told from both perspectives, T.J.'s as she hunts for her missing friend, terrified she will find at best a body, and Elizabeth's as she must contend with predators, all manner of magical creatures and the dangers her tiny size engenders where all it takes is one careless human step to squash her like a bug.

The author does a terrific job blending new pantheons with old, adding new types of fairies and darker creatures to the more familiar characters from folklore. The Blue Girl features both house fairies gone bad from neglect and the Anamithim, the creatures of darkness that are planning to snack on Imogene's soul. Elizabeth in Little (Grrl) Lost is a Little, a tribe that has been written about in books such as The Borrowers but the idea that they come from birds and might be able to turn back into them is new to me.

Of the two books I liked The Blue Girl best, partly because T.J. in Little (Grrl) Lost made some rather stupid decisions. Not that we don't all make mistakes but right after she is mugged a man who turns out to be a pervert talks her into getting into his car and when she changes her mind at the last minute tries to drag her inside. She manages to get away from him but shortly after gets on the back of a motorcycle driven by a complete stranger, a truly boneheaded move.

A few months ago I sat in on a panel on timid female characters in YA and the moderator said something like he didn't understand the appeal of girls who looked to others to make their decisions or behaved as a character from the 1950s. My response was that readers don't always want to read about the Buffys or the Wonder Women of the world. Sometimes they want to come home from a bad day where they were shy in school or didn't do so well on a test and they want to read about someone that makes them think, "Well at least I'm not her." So I'm definitely not saying I think all characters should be infallible but I do have a problem with people who make the same possibly lethal mistake more than once. When Imogene walks into danger she knows she's doing it, she has a plan (possibly a bad one) and she knows what's at risk, all of which makes her much more appealing to me.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Noir Cat who has this to say about Dangerous Creatures, a British film from the turn of the century, "Dangerous Creatures is the anti-Thelma and Louise. Funnier, more violent, with tougher women and a better ending it's also got a fake kidnapping, a two million pound ransom and a dog. What's not to love?" Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.