Saturday, October 11, 2008

How To Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier


Welcome to New Avalon, where everyone has a personal fairy. Though invisible to the naked eye, a personal fairy, like a specialized good luck charm, is vital to success. And in the case of the students at New Avalon Sports High, it might just determine whether you make the team, pass a class, or find that perfect outfit. But for 14-year-old Charlie, having a Parking Fairy is worse than having nothing at all—especially when the school bully carts her around like his own personal parking pass. Enter: The Plan. At first, teaming up with arch-enemy Fiorenza (who has an All-The-Boys-Like-You Fairy) seems like a great idea. But when Charlie unexpectedly gets her heart’s desire, it isn’t at all what she thought it would be like, and she’ll have resort to extraordinary measures to ditch her fairy. The question is: will Charlie herself survive the fairy ditching experiment? From the author of the acclaimed Magic or Madness trilogy, this is a delightful story of fairies, friendships, and figuring out how to make your own magic.

Grade: C something. +. Or just plain C. I cannot make up my mind.

Thanks to DS for the book!

Ah, crap, this is gonna be a long one.

Favorite thing: The world building. Top notch. Now, I’m not sure this is fantasy so much as it is ... I don’t know. Supernatural? Futuristic...something? What’s the term?! It didn’t feel like fantasy anyhow, this New Avalon place. In many ways, it was inspiring to read about it—not only because of what was original (fairies), but also because certain aspects of their society are blatantly (or subtly, depending on how you view it...) parallel to existent ones of nowadays. Ahem:

Prefixing any and all celebrity names with Our (example: Our Hilary Swank), thus indicating that they belong to the general public.

Many celebrities only gaining such status because they’re charismatic (cue charisma fairy) rather than because they’re talented. (Though this would’ve been interesting to see some Ours whose only claim to fame was their family’s money. ;))

New Avalon being the world’s richest city, with the highest number of native kick-ass athletes, scientists, celebrities, etc. In turn, its citizens are rather ignorant about cities beyond theirs and are pretty much hated by outsiders.

This last one is why Steffi (nickname: really?), a boy (again, really? With that nickname??) from the west coast, was one of my favorite characters—his didn’t take their shit. That was downright useful because, as Leila of bookshelves of doom noted, Steffi “allows for more explanation of How Things Work in New Avalon [and] also allows the reader to get a bit of a picture about [how] it is viewed from the outside” through his social criticisms.

The fairies were also a nice touch. (Also the first I’ve seen in a while spelled “fairy” rather than “faerie”—anyone know the difference? Is it like vampire and vampyre?) I especially liked that some people didn’t believe in them, and some didn’t even have them. I think at one point one of the characters was described as “agnostic” about their existence, which made me think of fairies as something higher than just luck-induced.

But, all of this brought on this novel’s shortcomings.

The first half introduced all of this, which is why I was so excited—a story that’s fun to read but also carries a powerful thought-provoking undercurrents? Finally! *whiney voice* I wannnnniiiit! This is why I liked the Uglies books by Justine’s husband, Scott Westerfeld. I thought, Now see, that’s how it’s done.

...and then came the second half, which moved the plot forward but left any meaning this novel had behind.

I have no idea what the conclusion Steffi’s thing was. He has one major confrontation with Charlie and tells her to kindly remove her head from up her ass, but nothing comes of it, and then he just drops dead and becomes negative space for the rest of the novel. As far as I know, this is a standalone, so... I mean... I don’t understand. I didn’t expect Steffi to change the world, but aside from Charlie expressing interest in visiting his hometown one day, his spiel changed nothing. While momentarily interesting to read about, I’m left wondering, if nada came out of it, what was the point? 

Then there’s the unmoving fairy situation. You get Fio’s mother, Tamsin, rambling on and on about the ethical nature of fairies, and how changing and/or ditching your fairy might have repercussions, but ultimately nothing happens. Charlie does everything you could possibly do with a fairy—trades it, loses it, and in the end, just grows a new one. If it’s that easy, then I can understand Tamsin’s hesitation with publishing her book—it would turn the nature of fairies commercial. Not satisfied? Oh, just get a new one. Forget what you were born with. Treat it like we people nowadays treat our bodies—plastic surgery all around. Which, come to think of it, would’ve been another nice lil’ parallel Justine could’ve drawn.

Point is, she didn’t. There are no consequences to switching fairies. The ideas introduced by characters who don’t believe in fairies in the first place were left untouched. Absolutely nothing happened other than Charlie ending up with a better fairy than she started out with, without losing sleep over it. So much for “possible consequences”.

And then there’s Andrew “Danders” Anders. ...what was with that subplot? What happens?!! We get no explanation for his bizarre behavior, no development on the charges that principal lady confided in Charlie about him, and no seemingly passable reason for his ... impediments. Again, there is no resolution!!

I loved the setup; I loved the writing; and I liked the characters well enough, despite many not getting nearly as much development as they should’ve (*cough* Steffi *cough*), not to mention some needing a new name (*cough* Fiorenze *cough*). (How do you pronounce that anyway??) I don’t feel like it was a waste of time to read this like I would’ve with any other novel with so many plot holes, but it still left me largely exasperated. Unless there’s a sequel in the works, I don’t understand, what—I just don’t understand.

So if you do read it, focus on the witty nature of the language (shrug off any weird slang—there are some clever terms, but some of them are very ...), but don’t think too much about it. Even if your initial reaction is that it’s safe to be going deep over this, it’s not. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Not sure whether to recommend this one or not. I assume many have read it already, if the high sales rank on Amazon and BN are any indication, not to mention all the reviews. Take what you will from this review. Was I charmed with the surface, left untapped with the essence? I honestly don’t know how I feel about the whole of this book. It is a fun book; maybe it was never intended to be anything more. But that still doesn’t excuse some of the plot holes. 

P.S. What was up with the teeth sucking? What the hell is that?

P.P.S. Who thinks the cover could have been better considering this is the title Bloomsbury is pushing this season?


Alea said...

I hadn't realized she was married to Scott Westerfeld, that's pretty cute! I haven't looked at the cover close up but from the thumbnail I like the colors on the cover. Not sure that that girl looks 14, maybe 17.

Gabbi said...

Is it just me or does (on that cover) it look like that one arm doesn't even belong to the same person? Did they airbrush in an arm?

Ink Mage said...

My thoughts on this one were pretty much the same as yours, only not as harsh. And I mean harsh in a good way. :-) I, too, loved the world building, but found other parts not so good. I thought some things were SO predictable, and "Danders" Anders's presence was random.

cat said...

I didn't know that those two authors were married! wow, your blog is just a fountain of information. :)

I am still eager to check out this book, because I have that faerie obsession... but it was nice to read a review that wasn't just all gushy!

Anonymous said...

Cat- My review wasn't as gushy either.

I'm kinda glad that I'm not alone in thinking that there was something missing from the book while reading. And Steph, see, you did end up giving it a C, lol.

Anyway, great review. I absolutely LOVE the cover- that and the title is what initially drew me in.

Also, I pronounced it as Phi-o-ren-zee, though I'm not sure if that's the correct one or not, lol.

Amee said...

Well as we just discussed, I obviously fill in plot holes with my imagination so I absolutely loved this book. It made me find Magic or Madness on PaperBackSwap and order it. I haven't read it yet, but I'm definitely a Justine fan because of this book. :D

YA Book Realm said...

I got this book but have yet to read it. But I reeaally enjoy Magic or Madness (the first book of the trilogy) when I read it a couple of years ago. Magic or Madness and HTDYF seem really different, though.

Carolina said...

Yea this book was missing some stuff and Steffi(weird freakin' nickname for a guy!) was what made this novel interesting. The made-up words got on my nerves sometimes.

Anonymous said...

This is next on my TBR pile, and life is short, so I think I'll give it a pass.

I'm an author, so I don't think I will publicly admit to passing. Thanks for the honest review.

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