In Sarah Monette’s poignant story about a young girl’s grief and loneliness, much of the background is shaded in swiftly; leaving the reader clutching at tantalising details. The story revolves around one central event; the death of Annie’s grandmother. However, much of what informs Annie’s story is happening, or has already happened, off the page.
When questioned by her teacher about whether there is trouble at home, Annie thinks ‘The trouble was that she didn’t have a home anymore, just a house where she lived with her parents. Her home had never been there, and now it was nowhere.’ And, while it’s difficult to build a definitive picture of Annie’s home life, it’s obvious from little details in the text that Annie doesn’t feel much affinity with her parents. Her grandmother has been the more significant, and positive, force in her life.
The fantasy element of this story is quiet, but at the same time extremely surreal. “Learning to See Dragons” is one of those stories where magic seems to appear just because it’s needed; although the appearance of magic doesn’t guarantee a typical happy ending. After finishing the story, I was remind of Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet and Lucy Wood’s collection Diving Belles. As with those stories, I was left feeling a little sad about Annie and her eventual transformation. And I felt sorry for her mother who seems to be feeling plenty of her own grief but can’t connect with her daughter at this important time. There’s an element of horror to the ending, but it’s hard not to also feel a sense of relief for Annie who has chosen and summoned her own fate. The reader is left questioning and reevaluating their response long after they’ve read the story’s last line.