Published by Henry Holt and Co. on August 27, 2013
Genres: fantasy, Magical Realism
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Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
“My pink house-no longer mine-stands on the edge of nowhere like a rose in a Salvador Dali surrealist desert landscape….”
In high school I was forced to read and analyze “The Odyssey” and let me tell you, it was the most boring and drawn out piece of literature that I have read in my entire life. There are many pieces of literature I appreciated and fell in love with as my required reading in high school such as “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, The House on Mango Street and of course one of my favorites of all time “The Great Gatsby” but “The Odyssey” was definitely not one of them! (I got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore and read the cliff notes version known as Sparks Notes!) But knowing that my beloved author Francesca Lia Block was coming out with a modern twist of “The Odyssey” influenced me to give it a read and let’s just say it definitely didn’t leave me with the glazed over feeling that I got when reading it in high school. And thankfully I didn’t need Sparks Notes this time… 🙂
“Then I see a butterfly dart in front of my face; it’s like the one that came to my window. It circles back and around my head, then flies forth to where a lime green VW bus is parked in the wasteland. I run toward it, open the door, and jump inside. Men are running out of the house, chasing me, howling. I jam the key into the ignition and turn it. The bus jolts forward, careening over rubble and debris. Taking me away into this severed world.”
The whole time as I was reading this book I felt like I was transported into a swirly and epic fairy tale. The story begins with the main character of Pen who sees life through art paintings, a storyteller who has visions of her life and other people, an avid book reader and an awkward teenager trying to make sense of her sexuality. Pen has lost her entire family due to the Earth Shaker that has left the city of Los Angeles into an utter wasteland.The only thing that is left for her is her lovely but dilapidated pink house that was up for foreclosure but now that doesn’t mean much anymore because of the Earth Shaker. Penelope sees a single Monarch butterfly which is the only sign that there is still life and most importantly still a small shred of hope.
In the story, a mysterious man whose identity is finally revealed at the end of the story comes into Pen’s pink house and gives her a chance of escape to look for her family. He leaves her a VW bus and a chocolate bar which she gladly receives (I don’t blame her.) and that’s how Pen’s fantastical and perilous journey finally begins. Later on her drive, she discovers a grocery store that she used to go to that is still filled with supplies and she encounters one of the giants. She has a pair of scissors and stabs one of Kronen’s giants in the eye.
The character of Kronen is what you would call a “mad scientist” who Pen’s father worked for. Kronen created these giants that were unusually large that it caused sheer devastation to Los Angeles which is how the Earth Shaker started in the first place.
“The world might be gone but somehow, here with Hex, it feels like when we open our eyes it will all come back, so much better than before.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be an epic fairy tale without meeting some life-changing friends along the way. Pen meets a boy named Hex with an inked tattoo that says “Heartless” and Pen slowly falls for him on her journey. He is a dark character who is a sword-wielding fighter who feels as if he is devoid of love but realizes in the end that love is all there is left especially when the world is gone. Pen also meets Ash who has “lighter than-a-paper-bag skin and almond green eyes” and who has a life-changing gift of bringing music to escape the havoc of his surroundings. And finally, she meets Ez who is named after Ezra Pound. Ez has a love for art and has an obsession with anything related to sugar. Ez has always felt like an outsider especially because he struggles with his sexuality and has an attraction to sketching male nudes. This leads Ez to form a special bond and connection with Ash that he has never had before.
Pen gets to know many people who try to halt her journey like the giants lurking around Los Angeles, a soap star named Circe who is described as looking like a “pre-Raphaelite Waterhouse painting” who makes them stay with her forever and eat cake or is the cake really an illusion? And of course, the story wouldn’t be The Odyssey without the infamous “sirens” who are described looking like one of those surgically enhanced Beverly Hills housewives on Bravo.
…”Wasn’t that what art was, after all? Desperate artists telling stories, drawing images, in order to keep some part of the goddess alive and close?”
Since I am an aspiring art history buff myself there were so many descriptions of whimsical paintings interlaced within the story like Salvador Dali, Monet and new artists that I am now newly introduced to from reading this book. (Thank you FLB<3.) Some amazing artists that were described in the book are Elihi Vedder, Odilon Redon, Francis Bacon and Edwin Romanzo Elmer.
Final Catfairy Thoughts
The style and design of the book are one of the most beautiful designs of FLB books that I have read. The decorations of the Monarch butterflies in every chapter made me think of them as “fairy butterflies” which is what they probably are<3 Every word I read in this book was read carefully and I fell in love again with FLB’s usual descriptive and captivating poetic writing style. All the characters were described with such magical minute detail that I am able to see them in my mind and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I love FLB’s writing. Towards the end of the story, I didn’t want to stop reading about Pen’s journey and wanted the book to be longer. (Luckily there is a sequel!)
“Were on the road to nowhere…
I found it funny that throughout the story I had the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere” stuck in my head. I was enamored with every turn of the page in this story and even though the characters felt like they were on a “Road to Nowhere” in the end they all found their destiny and most importantly they found themselves in each other which is more meaningful than the world crumbling around them.
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