304 p. Penguin Group, USA. January, 2011.
If thirteen-year-old Melissa Angelica Turpin (Mellie) is a bit rough around the edges, she has some very good reasons. Not only is she overweight, but way back in kindergarten, she shared the fact that she has her very own Small Person with Wings (they don't like to be called fairies), named Fidius. He did things for her like making her My Little Pony fly and hated vegetables turn into candy corn.
Of course, Mellie was told to prove it by bringing him in to school. Of course, her fair...um, small person with wings, flew the coop, leaving her to face humiliation at the hands of her classmates. She was branded with the nickname, Fairy Fat. She kept insisting that he was real though. By second grade, she was dragged into the school counselor, who in turn, dragged in Mellie's parents to discuss her insistence that Fidius was real. Once she realizes that her parents don't believe that Fidius is real, that they have been playing along, Mellie turns her back on anything imaginary and immerses herself in facts. Over the years between second and seventh grades, she becomes the school's champion speller, the whiz in geography, science and math. Of course, this makes her classmates hate her even more.
Then, her estranged grandfather dies and she and her family move to the inn that he used to run. This might just be the new start she needs. Only, very soon she discovers, not one fairy, but a whole passel of them in residence in the bar of the inn! And, she learns that her parents can see them! Not only that, they knew that Fidius was real the whole time! It seems, that her family, going all the way back to 775 and King Charlemagne, have been charged with the obligation to provide sanctuary to the Parvi Pennati, aka small persons with wings.
Things start to get a bit complicated to describe here, but Mellie and her family soon have a dilemma to solve, as things from the clock that boings at odd times to the real estate broker who seems a bit off, are not as they seem.
I enjoyed Ms. Booraem's earlier novel, The Unnameables. I did note that it would require a patient reader. This book will also require a patient, thoughtful reader, but for a different reason. In The Unnameables, the world-building took some time to gel (at least for me). In this book, readers may need time to warm to Mellie. She's abrasive, unsympathetic, even. She's sarcastic and rude to the one person who has offered friendship. There's more than a little family dysfunction going on what with her grandfather's estrangement, his alcoholism, and a suicide in the family's past. She and her family are deeply flawed.
Still, there's a healthy dose of humor, even hilarity, throughout and a good bit of suspense leading up to a satisfying and surprising climax. The story is layered and complex, while remaining solidly middle grade.
A word about the cover: I was sent an arc that had a different cover than the finished book. I am so happy with the change. It's a hip, cute cover with a contemporary vibe.