Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block
Plot Summary: Psyche's story is her progression from living with her father and starring in his films to becoming her own person. Psyche's relationship with her father is troubled, he is psychologically abusive and a poisonous influence in her life. She is visited by Eros, the god of love but she feels she can't be with him because he's a god and she's just a mortal. Psyche is also to not look at his face, but she does. After that, a lot of her romantic exploits center on Hades, who much like her father is abusive. Psyche goes through hell and various arrangements and eventually has a child with Eros. There is much personal guilt that Psyche feels that dissipates into love for her new daughter. Perhaps through this, Psyche will figure out a way to love Eros.
Critical Analysis: One of the most interesting parts of Psyche in a Dress is that there are many different elements to Psyche's character. She is portrayed through different Greek goddesses, all of whom describe a trait or feature. Also important is the dress, which represents another way of changing who you are, how you present yourself, how you react to the world and vice versa.
As with most Francesca Lia Block books, Psyche in a Dress requires its reader to be able to think critically and interpret symbolism. It requires at least some basic background knowledge of Greek mythology, so that can be seen as a pro or a con of the book. Without this knowledge, the reader would likely be lost. The book is written in a nontraditional format in terms of layout and content. Drawing on the Greek tradition, it feels more like an epic poem than a novel.
Another commendable feature of Psyche in a Dress is that it explores a lot of different themes: self-advocacy, abuse, transformation, and self-discovery. These themes are cleverly interplayed with Greek mythology. The book is overall well-written and it fits in well with the rest of Block's body of work while still being different. Everything she writes somehow centers on love in one way or another, this is a different and interesting take.
Reader's Annotation: A modern take on Greek gods, Psyche goes through quite a bit to realize the complexities of love.
Author Information: Block, a Los Angeles native, is known for her magical-realism tales and numerous award-winning young adult novels.
Genre: urban fantasy, fairy tale, young adult
Curriculum Ties: Useful for comparative purposes to Weetzie Bat, one is rooted in reality and one is much more rooted in fantasy. Good example of presenting subject matter in different ways.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 15 and up
Challenge Issues: frank discussion of abuse and sexuality
Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.
Why I included this title: It has a lot of potential curriculum parallels on Greek motif and symbolism. Block's work is also nontraditional. While it is intended for older teens, it isn't too intimidating to start at only 100 plus pages.