Review: Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Fly on the Wall book coverHave you ever wished to be a fly on the wall somewhere totally inaccessible to you? Gretchen Yee does, and, strangely and without explanation, she gets her wish.

It sounds weird—and it is—though it starts off a simple story about a girl attending a competitive arts high school in Manhattan. Gretchen is a little obsessed with superheroes—reading them, drawing them, and wanting to be one (who doesn’t, at least a little). She’s a bit of an oddball. She’s awkward around and confused about boys, although there is one she particularly likes, Titus. She has a single friend, Katya, who has become a little distant recently. Then some unexpected turmoil starts at home, causing her to have to take a hard look at her mess of a bedroom and really her life. She’s a bit of a pack rat but can’t imagine getting rid of any of the stuff she has.

Gretchen’s an interesting and well-developed character full of contradictions. She seems a little shy, but she’s not. She’s not afraid to tell of the realtor who asks if she’s adopted when she’s with her white mom (her dad’s Chinese). She’s a little immature for 16 and needs to grow up. But boys… boys just frustrate her. She wants to understand Titus but can’t figure him out.

One day after class, she manages to initiate a chat with him about a weekend museum assignment, which provides a perfect opportunity to suggest they go together. She chickens out, but not before making an observation I loved:

Titus bends over to pick his pencil off the floor. There’s a strip of skin between his shirt and the top of his jeans in the back. I can see the top of his boxers. Plain light blue.

She can’t figure out boys as a whole, especially after an interaction she has with Titus, her ex-boyfriend Shane, and three other guys:

As they move past us, Shane bangs a locker hard, just to make noise, and I jump.

Why do boys do stuff like that?

Then Shane pinches her butt and she wants Katya to tell her what it means. Katya tells her it means nothing and not to worry about it.

In frustration, Gretchen says, “I wish I was a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room.” That evening when she goes home to an empty house because both of her parents are out of town, she reads some Kafka and bam. Fly.

She witnesses exchanges she never expected and finally comes to understand some things about Titus and boy politics. It’s not at all like she expected.

The book is a little unusual in style, alternating fonts when going between inner monologue and real-time story. I wasn’t really sure what the point of that was, to be honest, and I found it a little distracting. But then again, it sort of suited the general strangeness of the book. I mean, the girl becomes a fly for a week and we never come to learn how. But it’s fine—we just accept it and enjoy the book for what it is. An interesting story about a girl coming to terms with sexuality, really (without any sex involved, though there were a fair number of “gherkins” in sight).

This is definitely a fast read, coming in at under 200 pages. Even though there are fantasy elements, I still think of it as contemporary more than fantasy. Anyone who’s enjoyed other Lockhart books will like this one, and so will anyone looking for a complex 16-year-old girl trying to figure things out.