A "natural-born cynic" (1.10) with a penchant for disaster comics, Flora is no normal ten-year-old. She doesn't have any friends, loves reading comic books, and she's got a superhero squirrel as a sidekick. Until her squirrel protector comes along, it's a pretty lonely little life Flora leads, so thank goodness for Ulysses.
Flora's mom desperately wants her daughter to be "normal," but as we learn in the book, there is no such thing; everyone is unique and strange in their own little ways. Flora has to wade through the murky territory of wanting to fit in (okay, more like her mother wanting her to fit in) while also trying to figure out who she is in her heart. It's a tricky process, but also a key part of growing up, whether you befriend a squirrel or not.
One of the ways we see the tension between who Flora's mom wants her daughter to be and who Flora actually is is through their literary preferences. Flora's all about comic books, but her mom wishes she'd put them aside in favor of real literature. And by real literature,we're going to go out on a limb and say that Flora's mom is talking about the kind of writing she does herself. Ugh.
The problem? Flora doesn't like that stuff, and she doesn't want her mom telling her what to read or whom to hang out with either. Sound familiar? Flora is a lot like other kids her age in that she's trying to get her parents off her case and doesn't really understand some of what they say. We're told: "Flora had a hard time imagining what love would be doing standing in a bowl of soup and singing, but these were the kind of idiotic words her parents spoke" (10.5). Yup—you're definitely not alone in thinking your parents say weird stuff.
One of Flora's mom's biggest beefs with her daughter is that she's always thinking about her favorite comic—Terrible Things Can Happen to You!—and different, well, terrible situations. What gives? It's clear Flora gets nervous about what could happen, no matter the likelihood of any particularly unfortunate event. For instance, she wants to be prepared in case she ever gets lost in the South Pole… though she has no plans to even go there in the first place. Last we checked, the South Pole isn't exactly a place you just stumble into either.
We think Flora's obsession with being prepared isn't so much about some belief that she's unlucky, though, as it is about her fear of bad stuff happening to anyone. When she thinks Tootie has gone nuts, she tells us: "'That was the thing about tragedy. It was just sitting there, keeping you company, waiting. And you had absolutely no idea'" (8.6). Looks like someone's learned to assume that the worst is always lurking just around the corner, and has decided that the best course of action is to be prepared as possible.
It might be tempting to write Flora off as a hypochondriac, but the thing is, she's been sent a pretty strong message from her parents that she's on her own in the world. She has serious doubts about whether they care about her at all—so much so, in fact, that Dr. Meescham catches her off-guard by calling her loved: "Beloved? thought Flora. Me?" (36.18). Flora feels like her parents are in a different universe than she is—her mom's consumed with her writing and her dad doesn't live with them anymore—so it makes sense that she's kind of on high alert all the time. In her daily life, Flora really is on her own pretty much.
By the end of the book, though, she realizes that her parents actually do love her, they just have a funny way of showing it. And while some of this is because they finally step up to the parenting plate, it's also thanks to Ulysses whom, by making her feel loved and accepted, encourages Flora to open herself up to loving and being loved. With his mushy poems and snuggles, he softens her cynical ten-year-old heart, which helps her see the ways in which her parents show her their love.
And yes, we are saying a squirrel saves the day.