Mundane puberty – Paul Vincent Rodriguez’ “The Tale of Rebecca the Chased”

Description by the author / blurb (taken from here):

As a young girl, Rebecca (not Becky or Becca or Reba) had a strong eem with her single mother. An eem is the connection fairies share that is strong or weak depending on how close the relationship is with the fairy with whom they are communicating. Michelle, Rebecca’s mother, was grooming her only child from an early age to be a proper fairy who could eventually land a wealthy husband. But Rebecca didn’t care about any of that. She was smart, athletic, and wanted to do things here way. As Rebecca grows and becomes more independent, her eem with her mother suffers until their relationship is nearly shattered. Rebecca shares the story of her more formative years – those from kindergarten through middle school – and the events and relationships that most shaped her life and affected the power of her eem with her mother.
rebecca_cover

Review

It’s hard for me to understand why „Rebecca the Chased“ should have been written as a fairy tale. There is very little of a fairy tale about it. It would have been possible very easily, with just some minor changes, to set the story up in our everyday world instead of the secretive fairy world. „Darvin the Nerd“ became a tooth-fairy and made some experiences that passed distinctly beyond the horizon of everyday experience. „Aynil the Traveler“ would even meet Death herself. The athletic Rebecca enjoys many a game of Touch-and-Go in the booklet – „a flying game that humans might equate to a combination of Tag and Hide-and-Seek“. Just by taking the wings off the players, it would be just that. Rebecca is exactly facing the issues that every other teen girl in our non-fairy world faces. Except that fairies don’t share the human problem of „hair growing out of weird parts of their bodies“, as the author duly notes.

In short, never before I read a tale about fairies that had so little of fairies about it. It makes me wonder why a fantasy tale would be without fantasy. In such a case it seems much more plausible to abandon the fantasy frame altogether. And it seems obvious that, in making Rebecca a fairy, this does not allow for an easier approach towards the issues she has to come to terms with. One might say that teen girls are often embarrassed about the issues of their age and if a fantasy tale takes up this issues, the fantasy-frame renders the problems less immediate, it takes down the emotional charge a notch and girls can try and understand these problems from a non-involved, a remote fantasy perspective. There’s a lot that’s true about that – however, the same objectifying look is offered by books who treat the very same problems, in the real world. For the unembarrassed approach to these problems nothing more is required than just that: that they are the problems of a character in a novel, not the direct complications of the girl reading the novel.
There is no answer why “Rebbeca the Chased” should have been made a fantasy tale. Inherently, it is none.

There is not even the fairy magic of light-heartedness breezing through the novella, an atmosphere that increased the fantasy charm of “Darvin the Nerd”. The author writes about Rebecca’s struggles with perfect seriousness. Certainly, there is very little distancing going on here by means of a humorous approach. The chapter when Rebecca buys her first bra contains some funny remarks – and when she’s together with her two best friends and, for instance, she is warned that her boyfriend might choke her, I felt the same smile playing around my lips that “Darvin” conjured so easily onto them. But else the novella rather surprises by its seriousness, by its maturity. Though Rebecca can fly, there’s nothing of the airy lightness of the fairy about her character and life. From this side as well, no fairy magic is introduced into the tale.

Now coming-of-age books that address the trials of girls are plethora. Among them, there are many ones far better than “Rebecca the Chased”. In this stack of books, is there anything that could give a distinguishable quality to “Rebecca”? No. By outward appearance, this special quality would come from its being a tale about fairies, a fantasy tale. But, as said, the fantasy here is no more than a loose frame, easily exchangeable by the frame of real life.

Still, “Rebecca” is a good book that can keep the attention of the reader tied to it. Besides, while elegantly circumnavigating the pitfalls of moralising, it is a book parents would want their kids to read. To fight back the attacks of a gossiping clique, Rebecca sets up the charade of a flirt and boy-chaser, to the point of alienating herself even from herself. “You’d better be careful or you may stay this way,” a true friend warns her. And indeed, when “Aynil the Traveler” muses about with whom he might get together if the lady of his dreams should have forgotten him, he quickly dismisses the idea of Rebecca, for one reason because “she is a huge flirt”. But finally Rebecca stays true to herself. She knows when to draw the line. And that line for her is crossed, the alarm bells starts ringing, when one of the gossiping girls she has been counter-attacking sees no other means of attaching her boyfriend to her but by… ”mating” him.

In my review for “Darvin the Nerd” I drew up a classification of children’s books appealing to an audience beyond children. That’s the audience Rebecca also aims at: 10-16+. The plus is deliberate. In summary, my classification resulted in such books either satisfying grown minds by a complex storyline or else by a powerful message respective existential experience. The first category I headed with “Harry Potter”, the second one with “The Little Prince”.
As with “Darvin”, the scope of this novella clearly calls for it to be set within the second category. In “Rebecca”, however, there is no message openly declared as in “Aynil” and “Darvin”. ‘The older the wiser’ is no message, it’s a matter-of-fact statement. I think the same holds true for ‘When you grow up, you understand your parents’ motives better’. The novella might contain a general message about ‘eeming’, the fairy-term for what could be roughly coined as ’empathy’. But this is no more than an allusion and is ultimately linked to the general truth already mentioned: When you get older, you get better at eeming your parents.
No. In my review for “Darvin the Nerd” I said that the estrangement of the outsider couldn’t be the existential theme of the story, because there was so little of it about Darvin – in much the same way, the late conciliation of children with the acts of their parents cannot be the core of “Rebecca the Chased”, because the outlook of the story is much broader than the isolated puberty experience of troubled relationships to parents. The outlook encompasses puberty itself – it’s the experience of being a “chased” one in these years, of being insecure of where this journey with it’s multiple changes is to end. The chase through puberty only comes to an end for Rebecca when she allows herself to be caught.

With these short novellas of “The Little Prince”-kind, it’s the hallmark of their quality whether the reader wants to take them up again. I remember I once read a review of “The Little Prince” where the reviewer said: Whenever I need a true friend, I take up this book.
However, I wouldn’t go through “Rebecca” a second time, albeit the feeling that runs through it can well be abstracted from puberty alone, might well be predominant in any life-phase when one is chased by dramatic inner changes and a new experience of the outer world. Therefore, as to why I wouldn’t take it up again, I see no other reason than that the existential theme isn’t brought forth powerfully enough.
In “The Little Prince” this theme is given its breadth and persistence by the heavy reliance on allegories and symbolism, the ‘red rose’ only being the most obvious example thereof. The existential feeling, ‘longing’, truly is simple. But it is ubiquitous because apparently there is no place where it doesn’t appear, each sentence seems to hint at it, each figure of speech seems to take the shape of a symbolic expression thereof. ‘Longing’, by means of its simplicity, the reader will fill out with the instances of his individual life. ‘Longing’ heavily saturates “The Little Prince” throughout, from first to last page, and on all levels of interpretation, from the superficial meaning of what happens to a sophisticated decoding of the symbolic images. The reader cannot escape from ‘longing’, he must face it up-front and on all levels of interpretation.
Rebecca”, however, is much too concrete, the story doesn’t penetrate into more reverberating levels than the obvious one about changes with girls in puberty, the superficial level recounted by the story. The existential feeling doesn’t resound from all directions, as it encompasses the reader who enters the world of “The Little Prince”.

Apart form these considerations, in “Rebecca the Chased” I happened upon some minor impediments to the fluency of reading – fluency which, certainly, would be a standard goal for any author reaching out to a teen audience of reluctant readers. Two examples thereof:
The small row of ‘play clothes’ that were represented by pants, tops and the occasional dress that had a rip or tear but nowhere near as damaged as those worn by my friends, hung closer to the floor.” The reluctant reader might have forgotten what hung closer to the floor once he gets there.
He was supposed to be in the lower east corner behind the Aspen trees and then was to rise up above the tops of the small cluster as I drew her down to the lower branches giving him the upper angle for the tag.” This sentence stands in the midst of a heated Touch-and-Go game; now I don’t want to presume on my mental faculties, but I had to read the sentence twice before my inner eye managed to depict the scene.
But these stumbling blocks in the flow of the text, related to the whole of it, are rare. They do not deter from the impression that the writing, in general, is impeccable.

And finally, the rating expresses the value of the novella: it is a thoughtful piece of storytelling that also keeps a reader attached to it disinterested in the subject of puberty girls’ tribulations. The narration quickly passes from eventful moment to eventful moment. Also due to the small shape of the book, there is no room for stretches of inaction or inertness. Nevertheless, though Rebecca is chased by the content of what happens to her, she is not haunted by its form. Rebecca, in the tale, is not reduced by shortness of proportion to a flitting scheme – instead, she is a main character with a character, someone the reader can emphatise with. In telling her story, just as Darvin Rebecca can cast an eeming spell on the reader. And, of course, the attraction might still be felt stronger with the age group Rebecca actually represents.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Link to Amazon Germany (paperback)
Link to Amazon USA (paperback)
Webpage to the bookseries “Tales of Fairies”

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