Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Title: Fly on the Wall
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Random House/Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 14, 2006
Pages: 182 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

At the Manhattan School for Art and Music, where everyone is “different” and everyone is “special,” Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. She’s the kind of girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of Spider-Man, so she won’t have to talk to anyone; who has a crush on Titus but won’t do anything about it; who has no one to hang out with when her best (and only real) friend Katya is busy.

One day, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys’ locker room–just to learn more about guys. What are they really like? What do they really talk about? Are they really cretins most of the time?

Fly on the Wall is the story of how that wish comes true.


E. Lockhart is probably one of my all-time favorite authors. Her Ruby Oliver series was short and sweet and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks? Don't get me started. I fangirl that book like I get paid to do it. I only wish I got paid for all the fannish squeeing I do over fantastic books. I expected Fly on the Wall might not be as good as the above-listed books, but it's still fantastic.

Like Lockhart's other heroines, Gretchen Yee has her problems and is hardly the kindest girl around. She has a lot of internal anger, only one real friend who doesn't feel comfortable enough to share some things with Gretchen, and no idea how to fit in at her school. Her struggles with feeling abandoned by the people around her and unable to understand other people (especially boys) is something I remember feeling when I was younger and I could relate to her through that.

Fly on the Wall draws heavily on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis both in-story and in the idea of someone suddenly turning into vermin. I had to suffer through Kafka's novel when I was sixteen, but reading The Metamorphosis gives me a richer understanding of Fly on the Wall. Why Gretchen turns into a fly is never explained and requires a good suspension of disbelief, but it's really just a vehicle for all the other changes she goes through. She can feel lust and not be ashamed of it! Guys can be just as insecure about their bodies as girls! All she needs to do to understand other people is break down the walls she put up and look at them!

Titus's eventual confrontation with Adrian due to his homophobic language was exactly what I'd been waiting for after the first time I heard Adrian call something gay just because he didn't like it. The book understands that yes, using the word that way does mean something and it can be pretty offensive no matter its intent. I can't remember the slang being quite so prevalent in 2006 (then again, I was twelve then and I don't exactly have a stellar memory of anything from back then), but this would be especially relevant now that I can't so much as walk down a school hallway without hearing a person call something gay because they think it's stupid.

How easily Adrian promised to change his ways struck me as somewhat unrealistic, though. My brother uses the same language and I've used a similar approach as the one Titus used, but my brother saw no problem with what he was doing. Other people who use gay as an insult have responded the same was as my brother when confronted  Maybe I'm doing something wrong or all the people I've confronted are too firm in their dickery?

Still, something about how the book was written threw me off and made a whole-hearted enjoyment of the novel impossible. Whether it was the formatting of the second part of the novel (which lasts about ninety pages and had small, bold print, leading to a massive eyeache), the rough mix of stream-of-consciousness writing (yet another callback to The Metamorphosis and a more normal narration style, or a both, Gretchen's written voice didn't mesh with me at all.

Having a refresher course on why I love Lockhart's novels puts me exactly where I was when I finished reading Real Live Boyfriends in January 2011: in a state of anticipation for her next YA novel. I never get tired of her way with words, deep understanding of how words can affect people, and fantastically flawed and lovable heroines.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin