Fly on the Wall: A Bookish Report

I would just like to take a moment to announce that yesterday, I turned in my first revision of Paper Valentine!

Soon (possibly very soon), I’ll get a second revision letter, after which I will probably disappear in a puff of smoke and go into hiding and eat only beef jerky and popcorn, and bake pies in the middle of the night.

But for now, we should have a week or two-ish of relative normalcy. I plan to get back on schedule (mostly meaning the official return of the high school posts) and in short, Be A Better Blogger.

But that’s next week.

Right now, I’m here to tell you about the third and final book in my Books-Brenna-Would-Have-Loved-in-High-School-Had-They-Existed series.

Pretty much anyone who hangs out with me, either on the internet or in real-life, has probably heard me talk about how much I love E. Lockhart. When YA readers ask me what smart, romantic contemporaries I’d recommend, I invariably point them toward the Ruby Oliver books . When professor-friends ask me for YA books to put on reading lists involving sociology or feminism or Marxist strong-containment models (or-or-or), I rave about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks.

However—while each of these books is smart, hilarious, and wonderful, and while they are all inarguably excellent books for many, many people to read—there’s still this one book that I tend to keep to myself. Because it is weird and hard to explain. Because it is bizarre and uncomfortable and kind of abrasive. Because it is my favorite.

That book is Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything.

fly on the wall

Reasons this is the best* book in the world:

  1. Random, unexplained magic that is really a metaphor.
  2. Boys. Real boys, without censors or filters (sometimes without clothes), afflicted with faults and insecurities and terrible, stupid defense mechanisms and crushing vulnerabilities and social hierarchies and everything that makes boys real, live people.
  3. Frank, realistic discussion of physical attraction. Not sex. Not love. Not even necessarily kissing. (Although yes, sometimes.)

What this book is about:

  1. A girl named Gretchen Yee, who is half-Jewish, half-Chinese, and the lone comic book enthusiast in an arts-intensive NYC high school where all her teachers want her to draw “real” things.
  2. A girl named Gretchen Yee, who is secretly kind of a badass and doesn’t even know it.
  3. A girl named Gretchen Yee, who, through a very Kafkaesque turn of events, is transformed into a house fly and spends the rest of the week trapped in the boys’ locker room.

See? This is why Fly on the Wall is a very hard story to talk about.

This is also exactly why it would have been seventeen-year-old Brenna’s Most Important Book.

In high school, I was just as passive, just as intellectually prickly, and just as desperate to understand people as Gretchen is. And I wanted so, so much for a book to magically come along and tell me about boys—not a book to tell me what it thought I wanted to hear, but to tell me the truth, in precise, unerring detail.

Fly on the Wall has that. Fly on the Wall is that!

Lockhart does an amazing job of exploring all these tricky, interconnected ideas, like how to be a good friend (by listening, communicating, being honest), how to talk to boys (like they are people), how sometimes an unspoken infatuation can kind of start to edge into awkward voyeurism, and maybe most importantly, how the way you feel inside is not what other people see—because most of the time, people only see what you show them.

Which was something that at seventeen, I had absolutely no concrete understanding of, and would have pretty much willingly died a thousand deaths for any book that could actually kickstart that conversation.

(Also, sometimes I still don’t.)

(Have an understanding.)

(But I try.)

*In my head, I have like 20 Best Books at any given time. This is always one of them.

9 thoughts on “Fly on the Wall: A Bookish Report

  1. Two things:
    Papper Valentine! I am so excited for this book, and it’s ghosts, and it’s murders, and it’s nine fingered hero. (Are these things I’m not supposed to remember? Possibly.)

    Secondly, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks sort of changed my life when I was like 14. Everything about it. I read it 16 times in rapid succession. That book. <3

    • Yes! All those things are—amazingly enough, considering my tendency to revise with a machete—still there! Plus … also MORE :D

      And I love (lovelovelove) TDH! As a person who used to drawn blueprints for panopticons on everything (also as a person whose worksheets used to trouble my physics teacher deeply), I would have swooned-in-my-brain over a book that actually applied the theoretical principle to Real Life.

      Also, I think this is the most gorgeous picture, because it absolutely makes my skin crawl:

      • Ohmygod! I did not even consider the idea that you may have removed the murders or ghosts, or added a finger to our hero. Not sure what I would have done if you took out the murders and ghosts. It quite possibly would have been ugly.
        For me TDH was all, ALL about guerilla art which is like… my thing. Only this is how I fist found out it existed, after a little googling.
        And being a strategist.
        Amazing things.

  2. Brenna, oh my Lord yes–E. Lockhart is one of my favorite authors. I’ve loved everything by her. TDH is one of my all-time favorites, largely because I was interested in feminism and Foucault in my late teens and then happened to find a book that talked about those interests…and Frankie is such a badass! It even helped me direct my interests for doing a thesis in my grad program. And The Fly on the Wall was really enjoyable. I don’t think it impacted me as much as TDH, but it really just re-solidified for me what an important author E. Lockhart is. (And the Ruby Oliver novels, eegads, so good). Anyway. Just had to gush, because I don’t know enough people IRL who know who Lockhart is…her books are GAME CHANGERS.


    • her books are GAME CHANGERS

      So, so YES! Whenever I get into some kind of totally unhelpful thought-loop where I start worrying that all my ideas are way too weird to survive, I just remind myself that E. Lockhart makes wild, unexpected premises seem not only plausible, but important! And then I sit down and get back to work.

  3. Congratulations (at least until Draft 2) on Paper Valentine!
    This book sounds amazing and definitely on my TBR list. There are only a few contemporary YA authors who are able to delve into the teenage brain and explore real problems (John Green comes to mind), and although I’ve never read E. Lockhart- horrible decision that will soon be fixed- it seems like this book is exactly what I was looking for!
    Any more Books-Brenna-Would-Have-Loved-in-High-School-Had-They-Existed are welcome!

    • although I’ve never read E. Lockhart

      Oh, I’m excited for you now! Mileage may vary, obviously, but I fully expect you to be delighted by her. Her books read with such immediacy and so naturally and effortlessly, but the core concerns are always just really BIG. Dare I say, even existential? Which were the kind of concerns that high-school Brenna was obsessed with, naturally :D

  4. I have never even heard of this title by Lockhart, but I just went online and put myself in queue to download the e-book from my local library. A bit of quirky plus a lot of introspection sounds just like what I could use right now. :)

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