Page 45 Review by Stephen
"But mom, your character has an 18 Charisma. I want to be beautiful too."
"It's always better to be smart than pretty. And 13 isn't bad. You should be happy with average."
Thankfully, mom's not talking about school grades or life in general: the family's playing Dungeons & Dragons.
However, however, on the page immediately following:
"In my family I was sandwiched between siblings and at school, bookended by the loud and the quiet, the rich and the poor, the cool and uncool. I felt unnoticed and daydreamed, even prayed, for an Ugly Duckling type outcome. I simultaneously strived to stand out and nestled myself in averageness, a comfortable place for an introvert.
"The middle was, if nothing else, safe."
That's Fitzgerald's starting point, after which she darts back and forth in time, charting her development from a childhood full of make-believe and fantasy (D&D, spooky television, dressing up) to an adult life of learning, self-discovery and - in conversation with a friend - exploring their relationships with regards to societal norms (books, books, books, being single, bisexuality etc).
Even in adulthood Fitzgerald remained fascinated by the likes of witchcraft, but on a more historical, socio-political level, citing 'The Malleus Maleficium' published in 1487 as the beginning of women's woes there.
"It spread the idea that people with abnormalities like birthmarks, moles, red hair, or left-handedness, were likely witches...
"An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people were executed for witchcraft, most of them women.
"It was enforced by the Church and governments because the pagan movement was empowering women and growing rapidly, "disturbing" the order.
"I heard the trials were an excuse to sentence homosexuals to death, who had nothing to do with witchcraft."
Nor did 99.9% of the others!
However, Fitzgerald gets a taster for these suspicious minds even in childhood during one of many sleepovers involving innocent dress-up and acting that goes unexpectedly, religiously, catastrophically wrong.
This is the first time I've heard of any family wishing each other Happy Friday 13th, but this has nothing to do with the dark arts and everything to do with her parents' first meeting as teens on that date at a church dance!
If you enjoy your Greek mythology, this is explored on another book that capture's Fitzgerald's interest, 'A History Of Celibacy'. She and Elise enjoy discussing these histories before applying them to their present. See "being single".
Between the present and the distance past lie those difficult teenage years, rebellion almost a given. Fitzgerald was no exception, so out up goes the punk hair dyed with a strong streak of red, and out comes the dinner-table attitude and outbursts. Especially the one big out-burst: the proclamation of bisexuality, followed by a hasty, sobbing retreat upstairs.
She could have just passed the gravy, as requested.
Finally and thankfully I am reading far many more happy instances of coming out, after hearing years and years of rejection horror stories, and I'm delighted to report that this is another, with several extra, thoughtfully supportive and empowering surprises from mom and dad to make you smile. I wish everyone had it so easy.
The forms inside are very soft in a Sally-Jane Thompson way, with extra pencil shading - very different from the cover - and of course red is going to feature prominently!