cover image Fleabrain Loves Franny

Fleabrain Loves Franny

Joanne Rocklin. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1068-1

Rocklin pays homage to Charlotte’s Web, explores Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and mildly evokes Elise Broach’s Masterpiece in this historical fiction/fantasy novel about fifth-grader Franny Katzenback, a victim of the polio epidemic that swept the United States in the early 1950s. Franny—a compassionate, thoughtful and sympathetic protagonist—is believably erratic in her emotions and reflections on her illness and its effects on her previously carefree life. Captivated by E.B. White’s just-published book, Franny longs for a Charlotte in her life. Enter Fleabrain, a well-read flea in love with his own intellect. Rocklin’s (The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook) rich depiction of 1950s Pittsburgh turns into a touching, imaginative whimsy, eventually becoming a full-fledged fantasy that fits somewhat awkwardly into the otherwise solid world she has constructed. Fleabrain and Franny’s fantastic adventures and secret noble deeds distract from Franny’s real story, which is satisfying in itself; she has the inner resources and loving support to come to the inspiring resolution without the flea’s help. An extensive author’s note details the history of polio and the fight to prevent it. Ages 8–12. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Aug.)