Fleabrain Loves Franny
Joanne Rocklin

If you're looking for something to cry over OTHER than the unfortunate events of this past week, may I recommend Fleabrain Loves Franny? I read it Wednesday before work, and I had to change BOTH shirts I was wearing because I cried so much and so hard that I soaked through EVERYTHING.

But, you know: in a good way.

It's the fall of 1952, and Franny Katzenback is out of the hospital and back in her Pittsburgh home, recovering from polio. She's isolated from her friends, whose parents have banned them from hanging out with her due to fears of contagion. She can't stand her physical therapist, who seems more mean-verging-on-sadistic than tough-but-fair; and she's frustrated by her new dependence on her family—especially her sister, the saintly Min—and on her new wheelchair. 

One of the major comforts in her life is her beloved copy of Charlotte's Web—new out that year—and she dreams of befriending her very own Charlotte. 

That doesn't happen.

Instead, she gets Fleabrain, a well-read—and wonderfully pretentious—flea who hangs out on the tip of her dog's tail. It's a story about friendship and family and change and love and sacrifice and I loved it so, so much.

I loved the arc about Franny adjusting to post-polio life, and especially her realization that (spoiler) she feels stronger, more in control, and more comfortable in her wheelchair than she does using her leg braces and crutches. It's hugely empowering, and wonderfully done. Rocklin SHOWS everything: SHOWS how Franny and her friends matter-of-factly deal with pre-ADA architecture, SHOWS how Franny deals with other peoples' assumptions about her own preferences and needs, SHOWS how she adapts to a new way of life, and SHOWS how she eventually flourishes.

I loved, of course, her friendship with Fleabrain, and I loved that Rocklin took it in an unpredictable direction. I loved seeing how she paralleled Franny's relationship with Fleabrain with her relationship with her human friends; I loved that the strength of characterization and conflict extended to the secondary characters.

I loved seeing how much Franny and Fleabrain grew, I loved seeing Fleabrain's interactions with others, I loved the quirks in his voice, I loved that he—unlike Charlotte—was a distinctly flawed character.

I loved that there were no Afterschool Special Moments: Franny has a cinematic moment of triumph at the end, but the Historical Note puts it into context, as well as adding a downer dose of realism. There's plenty of backmatter for those of us who love that stuff, and you'd better believe that I'm going to read the rest of Rocklin's backlist STAT.


Related: By the catalog: Abrams, Fall 2014-Winter 2015.