How To Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

January 5, 2010

Bloomsbury, 2008

Finished: Jan 1, 2010

Source: saw in book blog, then spotted by chance on the library shelves.

Genre: futuristic YA (but barely–more like J with a little sexy crushing sprinkled on top) fluff

On the Scales: featherweight

This book gets a lot of mileage out of the premise and the slangy, naturally-paced dialog.  Beyond that, there’s not much to it.  There isn’t meant to be.  Reclining on her bed of laurels, Justine Larbalestier has plucked a sticky cherry nougat from her box of ideas, sampled it, frowned thoughtfully, and tossed it to her fans.

I keep reading Larbalestier because I knew from Magic or Madness that she was on her way to being a fantastic YA novelist.  Her books aren’t maturing like I expected.  The tight plotting and characterization of her first book dissolved more with each book in the series.  Liar, a stand-alone psychological suspense fantasy, got my hopes up and then nearly fulfilled them.  So then I tried How to Ditch Your Fairy.

I am interested that all Larbalestier’s books feature a hyperkinetic teen girl.  From this character’s perspective she writes intense–ecstatic, really–descriptions of youthful physicality: how it feels to move (sports, dancing, magic-using), and also physical attraction.  It makes me think Larbalestier either was this girl in real life, or else knew her well.

Now the girl is Charlie, a cricketer with hoop dreams.  In the regimented, cheerfully ethnocentric land of New Avalon, kids are put on track for their adult lives early.  Charlie not only blindly accepts but adores her prestigious all-sports-all-the-time high school–where even the regular classes like Public Relations are tailored to prepare students for careers as sports celebrities.

The school, with its inanely fascist demerit system, was the most entertaining part of the book.  The fairies, much less so.  The stock characters, not at all.  There’s poor, poor Charlie who doesn’t like cars and is stuck with a parking fairy; there’s her well-dressed friend; there’s her smart-as-a-whip kid sister, there’s her mellow-boy crush with good hair.  And of course Fiorenze, the girl with a boys-like-her fairy that everyone loves to hate.

I would have been much more interested if Larbalestier had opened a crack in Charlie’s perceptions and shown us even a little of the dark side of New Avalon through it, instead of just giving us a straight fairy farce. The fairies (which are invisible) functioned largely as a plot device.  If Charlie’s and Fiorenze’s fairy dilemma hadn’t been forced to center stage the whole time, the story could have gone absolutely anywhere.  It really puzzled me that Larbelestier didn’t take advantage of any of her more interesting options.  Danders Anders for example: he was such a conventional neanderthal, I kept expecting him to do something unexpected, and shake us up!

Maybe she is saving it for the sequel.

One last thing I should mention.  As a proud specimen of the YA fluff genre it represents, How to Ditch Your Fairy has an odd problem: it spends too much time on the parents.  Parents are accessories in this kind of novel.  Fiorenze’s mom has written a book.  BO-ring!–except insofar as it affects the main characters.  An important scene derails on a lot of talk about Fiorenze’s mom’s feelings about the book she’s written.  Silly Ms. Larbelestier.  YA fluff parents aren’t allowed to have feelings about anything except their kids.

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