Francesca Lia Block,
Blood Roses
(HarperTeen, 2009)

I'm not always entirely sure what happens to the protagonists in Francesca Lia Block's compendious short-story collection, Blood Roses.

In nine brief tales, a dense veil of modern fantasy is drawn over the events that take place. The mood is dark, dream-like and subtly metaphorical. Some conclusions are vague, or they are wrapped in lyrical prose that mask reality. But I'm pretty sure that in many cases here, these characters -- mostly young girls -- come to some form of unpleasantness by the end ... although, sometimes, one suspects the conclusion is more healing than harmful.

From the blood roses of the title, which sisters Lucy and Rosie suspect you can only see once you're dead, to Rachel Sorrow, whose uncertain love threatens to expand beyond her capacity to grow, from centaurs made flesh and tattoos that spontaneously appear along with a girl's romantic obsession to a mother who bleeds youth and beauty from her daughter, each chapter touches on uncomfortable, vital subjects. And there's a kind of urgent poetry to Block's prose that draws you into each tale.

When Lucy got home from school and saw her sister's note she started to run. She ran out the door of thick, gray glass, down the cul-de-sac, across the big, busy street, against the light, dodging cars. She ran into the canyon. There was the place where the rattlesnake had blocked the girls' path, the turn in the road where they had seen the baby coyote, the grotto by the creek where the old tire swing used to be, where the high school kids went to smoke pot and drink beer. There was the rock garden that had been made by aliens from outer space and the big tree where Lucy had seen a man and a woman having sex in the branches early one Sunday morning. Lucy skidded down a slope causing an avalanche of pebbles. She took the fire road back down to the steep, quiet street. She got to the house just as Rosie knocked on the tall, narrow door.

These loosely linked, transformative stories are magical in some ways, ripe with blossoming sexuality and confusion and, in a few cases, predation. They are beautiful and sad and quite often cautionary. Thoroughly modern, they just might steer young readers away from the Big Bad Wolf that awaits them in the woods.

review by
Tom Knapp

10 October 2009

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