Sunday, April 4, 2010
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier
If you lived in a world where everyone had a personal fairy, what kind would you have?
How to Ditch Your Fairy is set in a world where people believe in fairies and most people have a personal fairy. The fairies vary, from a loose-change fairy to a clothes-shopping fairy to a boy-attracting fairy. Charlie Steele has a parking fairy that she hates. She is attempting to rid herself of the parking fairy by walking everywhere she goes and hoping that it leaves. Because she walks everywhere, she is getting into trouble at her school for tardiness and breaking other rules at her rule-filled school.
Charlie dislikes a girl named Fiorenze Burnham-Stone. Fiorenze has the boy-attracting fairy. Unfortunately, Charlie's crush, new guy Stefan, takes an instant liking to Fiorenze. He still likes Charlie and even claims to not liking Fiorenze whenever she isn't around, but her fairy makes it impossible for him to resist her. Further complicating the situation, Stefan has a never-in-trouble fairy so that he can lavish as many kisses and PDAs on Fiorenze as he wants, and Stefan doesn't receive any punishment even though such things are against the rules.
Two things surprised me about this book. The first was that Charlie was actually very unlikeable. Fiorenze was turned into an enemy by no fault of her own. I actually felt incredibly frustrated when it was clear that Fiorenze is miserable and only wants to be Charlie's friend. Her fairy is even worse than Charlie's, but Charlie is too busy hating her to listen or sympathize. All Charlie does is complain about her fairy, list her demerits and complain more about how life just isn't fair. We are hearing everything in her head and therefore most of these things aren't out loud. Still, as Alice said in The Magicians, "...You can choose to be miserable."
Even more surprising was how dystopian the book was. It is set in a city called New Avalon. Everyone in the city believes that New Avalon is the greatest city in the world, and if a street is the steepest street in New Avalon it must therefore be the steepest street in the world. Stefan just moved to New Avalon and is appalled at the sense of superiority and the pridefulness over local celebrities referred to as "Ours." He also resents that nobody has any curiosity at all about anyplace outside of New Avalon, places where he claims everyone hates them and hasn't heard of the "Ours."
Going even further with the dystopian themes, Charlie and her friends all attend New Avalon Sports, a school specifically for training athletes. These students have super-long days that include lunch and dinner breaks, and their only day off is Sunday. There is a long list of offenses that can earn demerits, then game, then school suspensions, and finally expulsion. These offenses were things like tardiness, kissing, crying, wearing the wrong uniform, not laundering your uniform, wearing the wrong size of uniform, not eating enough calories or protein, and on and on. Charlie claims that the rules are to teach discipline like athletes need, but the whole thing seems kind of fishy to me in a Big Brother kind of way. My concerns are never addressed, the story never strays from the fairies into secret government agencies or anything. It just would have been cool to have a simple fairy story turn in that direction.
Finally, I really enjoyed this book in spite of fairy talk. Despite an occasional belief that I am victim of voodoo when a pain pops up in my tummy, I am not superstitious. I simply do not believe in fairies (Clap to save Tinker Bell, kids!). I liked that some characters had fairies and still insisted that fairies don't exist, that everything was all just luck. In the end, a lot of things could be dismissed as luck or coincidence. Just in time for the perfect parking space, pheromones to attract the boys, and a knack for finding change. Maybe you knew how to fly all along, Dumbo. Who needs fairies anyways?