cover image The Mind's Eye

The Mind's Eye

Paul Fleischman. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6314-1

Written as a script and set in a convalescent home in present-day North Dakota, this provocative story traces the relationship between 16-year-old Courtney (now a paraplegic), and Elva, her 88-year-old roommate. A former English teacher, Elva peppers her conversation with literary allusions as she doggedly encourages Courtney to transcend her physical limitations. ""You'll need to spend hours on your mind, not your hair,"" Elva says. Fleischman cleverly sets up readers to side first with Courtney, who has all she can do to accept her body's condition, then leads them to switch allegiance to Elva, as the spunky octogenarian uses a 1910 Baedeker's Italy to lure Courtney into joining her on an imaginary grand tour of Italy. What follows is a transformative journey not only through the landscape of turn-of-the-century Italy, but also of the mind--fraught with detours as Elva reminisces and Courtney rages against her fate. The author anchors the strongest scenes in sumptuous sensory details of the ""trip."" But several threads are left dangling: a subtheme, in which Courtney gloms onto the legend of Medusa and fantasizes about wrecking several of Italy's masterpieces with her own evil eye, fizzles out; and, more disappointingly, Courtney's grief at Elva's death takes place offstage. Still, as the final curtain falls, the scene is a hopeful one: the mantle has passed from Elva to Courtney, who persuades her new roommate to join in the fantasy excursion. Whether read solo or presented as a play, this novel, like much of Fleischman's (Weslandia) oeuvre, honors the power and life of mind and spirit. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)