April 2006

Kelly Zavala

fiction

Firefly Cloak by Sheri Reynolds

Sheri Reynolds is already the author of Oprah Book Club classic The Rapture of Canaan, among others. Reynolds doesn’t disappoint in her highly anticipated fourth novel. She brings us deep inside the gracefully tragic story of a teenager and her search for the mother who abandoned her as a child. Firefly Cloak is a beautiful story of a child growing up in a trailer park with only herself to count on.

Reynolds is a master of words, sparing none of her literary tools to astound us. Firefly Cloak is supposed to be the story of fifteen-year-old Tessa Lee and her “dangerous journey” to find her mother. In fact, Tessa Lee’s journey only begins with finding her mother Sheila. Before the book is through, Tessa Lee must face astounding emotional hurdles, starting with the discovery that her mother is a coked out Mermaid for Hire at a cheesy boardwalk wax museum.

The book opens in Tessa Lee’s voice. Reynolds captures the naiveté and youth of a child perfectly. “The night before she lost her momma, Tessa Lee camped out in a two-room tent.” This voice continues as we journey with her. On the beach, Tessa Lee witnesses two teenagers having sex. Tessa Lee does not accept this for what it is and instead remembers her mother in the two-room tent the night she left. The last sounds she remembers are the sounds of her mother pleasuring a man. Now, hearing these same sounds, Tessa Lee is afraid. “He was doing to her what waves do to sandcastles.” She is afraid the boy will destroy the girl. It is an incredible feat that Reynolds, while speaking with the innocence of Tessa Lee, can also convey the complexity of Tessa’s past fears mingling with her present in both a literal and psychological sense.

Tessa Lee is not the only character who is drawn so amazingly well. From the beginning, readers are not only given each character’s thoughts but their whole world as well. By presenting reasoning processes along with the character’s actions or words, even non-addicts can understand why each character acts, thinks, or speaks a certain way. When Sheila finds out her rash is a case of the shingles, she says the rash makes her feel “soft and mildewed and black.” She thinks of herself as the shingles themselves, of the shingles on the roof of the house, and then re-diagnoses herself. “She had termites. She pictured them doing to her insides what they did to wood-gnashing something solid into pure powder. They were doing to her what they’d done to the old man’s house.”

The author expertly lays down poignant prose that while simply stated, amplifies the complexity of the situation or emotion. Upon returning home, a very sunburned and peeling Tessa Lee lets her grandmother deal with the neighbors’ sympathy while she deals with her own whirlwind emotions. In her bedroom, Tessa Lee “stood before the mirror, examining herself in her old cloak, in her new skin, open and peeling away. She wasn’t sure yet what she was becoming.” With that quote, there is no doubt that this is a coming-of-age story. Reynolds speaks of seeing a mental transformation in a very physical way.

The style of writing used in this book is also unique and intriguing. The author teases the reader brilliantly, revealing back-story in pieces and only within the context of the present moment, leaving a literary crumb trail. After a hysterical drug binge, Sheila is locked in a crazy man’s upstairs bedroom. Sheila is forced to use the ladder on the side of the house to get out, despite her fear of heights. With one leg dangling precariously out of the window, Sheila reflects on her terror when riding the Ferris Wheel for the first time years ago. She remembers Lorenzo, the boy who took her on the Ferris Wheel and the first boy she ever ran away from home with. Readers will follow as the story unfolds scene by scene, finding out more about Travis’s death and Sheila’s decline, launching finally into profound understanding. Only then will we realize we have been led the whole way to the delicious, unexpected climax and beyond.

Firefly Cloak is an enthralling tale of a young girl with more courage than some adults would have on an emotional journey no child should ever have to make. It maintains an easy to read, simple language, all the while maintaining a sophistication of word and idea thought-provoking enough to sustain any reader. It would be a mistake to pass this book by.

Firefly Cloak by Sheri Reynolds
Shaye Areheart Books
ISBN: 0609610082
304 Pages