Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review - "Small Persons with Wings"

I have always loved fairy tales.  When I was a child, I absorbed the stories of the fairy land of Oz, and as an adult I have devoured and dissected the tales of Andrew Lang, the Brothers Grimm and other legends from around the world.  There is something about the fairy tale, whether it involves fairies or not, that endures, and something about that fascinates me.  In the case of Ellen Booraem’s Small Persons with Wings, we’re dealing with fairies (more on that later) and the humans who see them.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way.  The proper name to call these pint-sized pixies is Parvi Pennati, or if you must, “small persons with wings”.  As the book cover pronounces, “they hate to be called fairies”.  Our heroine, Mellie Turpin, lived with a small person with wings when she was a small person without wings, but after a simple childish mistake, Fidius leaves her, which leads Mellie to be teased and ostracized at school (she is teased for her weight and called “Fairy Fat”), and her parents accidentally lead her to believe Fidius wasn’t real.  Because of this, Mellie promptly packs away her imagination and dedicates herself to facts, especially about art history.  With her nose in a book, Mellie survives school and bullies until her grandfather dies and her parents uproot to go and take care of the family inn and pub Ogier Turpin left behind.  Settling into her new home, Mellie discovers oodles of Parvi, and is forced to accept that her imaginary friend was not imaginary after all.
What follows is a little complicated to explain, so I won’t go into detail.  Suffice to say, there is a mystery, a threat, new friends, a creepy villain, some scary moments, some downright bizarre ones, and lots and lots of small persons with wings.  All hinges on a moonstone ring entrusted to the Turpin family and needed by the Parvi for their future survival.  In all, the story is a little too complicated.  There’s French and Latin being thrown around and ancient pacts and magic and lots of little details to keep track of.  Good for us, Booraem seems to know exactly what she’s doing, even if the reader isn’t always sure.  I always felt like there was somewhere important we were going, and I trusted Booraem to get me there.
There’s something to be said about a not altogether likable hero (or heroine).  Nan Marino’s Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me was one of my favorite books of 2009, and Tamara, the heroine, is hardly a girl of sterling character.  In fact, she’s kind of a bully.  But she was utterly relatable, and a huge reason behind my love for the book.  Similarly, if I met Mellie in real life, I’m not sure I would like her.  She can be acerbic, obnoxious and a know-it-all.  Granted, as a girl who has been teased for most of her life, she has reasons to be standoffish, but her personality could still use some polish.  As a character, however, I loved her.  She had spunk, she had spirit.  She felt her fear, then pushed it down and went on in spite of it.  The secondary characters are well fleshed out, especially Mellie’s grandfather, who makes a surprising appearance (to say the least), but Mellie is the star of the show.  It is her hurt that we feel and her determination we latch onto when things look bleak.  Small persons with wings may bring the fantasy, but Mellie brings the heart of this charming fairy tale.
Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem
2011, Dial Books for Young Readers
Library copy

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