Miracles happen. Especially in books. A burning bush talks to Moses? Sure, I accept that. A bunch of bones become an army of ghosts? Umm, creepy, but ok, I can swallow that. Elves, hobbits, flying kids, witches, people who incarnate over and over again over thousands of years. I believe it. I do. My imagination can accept quite a lot of marvelous happenings.
This is called, in literary terms, suspension of disbelief. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of my favorite poets, is the one who came up with the term. It is poetic faith, the reader’s willingness to accept incredible, romantic and supernatural people or events as possible within the framework of a novel, poem or play.
Poetic faith allows me to enjoy fictional writing. Take, for example, this story about a normal girl who is chosen to act as an adventurer in fairy tale worlds. That’s an imaginative idea, right? I don’t know any girl who actually does that. But, as long as the girl’s story sticks to the rules which the novel sets starting out, I am willing to accept and enjoy flying frogs, sheep with no mouths, a wizard who is a clown (how terrifying!) and a main character who is an expert in cliches.
The story I’m describing is Anna Staniszewski’s middle grade novel My Very Unfairytale Life. Jenny, the main character, does not fear the danger inherent in adventuring. She easily pops in and out of worlds saving creatures and countries, but she misses her everyday life. Yes, she’s rich with jewels and treasures, but she has no friends.
I like novels where the main character needs to balance their innermost desires with the conditions of their life and the limitations of the world around them. Staniszewski’s novel, though short, cute, and easy-to-read, still manages to enfold within its pages a discussion of friendship, the power of laughing without a care in the world, and following our heart.
I think the novel’s innate charm is what made me so willing to suspend my disbelief. A lot of Staniszewski’s seemingly impossible details add charm as well as a shadow of menacing darkness and complexity to a story teeming with humor: the wizard’s castle is a huge circus tent and his grounds a mini-golf garden. He tortures Prince Lamb by forcing him to swing on a trapeze. The committee members who send Jenny on her adventures are exact copies of each other, looking alike, speaking in the same voice and at the same time.
I allowed myself to be swept along in Jenny’s adventure, rarely bringing my head up for air, following the twists of the plot through possible, impossible, credible, incredible, just letting myself have fun. And by the end of it, a reaffirmation of family and friends, I was very glad that I allowed myself to rest in belief for at least this one time.