September 2009

Drennan Spitzer

fiction

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog

Cyn Balog's Fairy Tale should have been a book that appealed to me. As a self-professed lover of Young Adult fantasy, I should have been enchanted by Balog's plot: Soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old Morgan Sparks finds out that her boyfriend Cam, the love of her life, is a fairy, a changeling. When he was an infant the Fairies swapped him for a human child, and Cam, as well as his family and acquaintances, has believed he is a mortal. However, the fairies want Cam back and have replaced Pip, his mortal counterpart. Morgan must face losing forever the love of her life on her sixteenth birthday. The bones of this plot are not bad. Although not overly original, such a plot has the potential to be interesting, particularly to those of us who are drawn to this genre. And yet, Balog's writing turns a potentially interesting story into a reading chore.

One difficulty I had in terms of enjoyment is that Balog's characters just aren't interesting or compelling. Her central character, Morgan Sparks, certainly has the potential to be interesting. She's not just a typical YA protagonist, concerned about boys and parties and popularity. No sir, Morgan is also psychic. This one trait seems like it should make Morgan interesting; certainly it marks her as something other than expected. But Balog doesn't really do anything interesting with Morgan's ability to see the future. In fact, this ability seems like it should, at the very least, be a compelling plot device. But the novel would have been almost the same had Morgan not been a seer. The same could be said for Cam and Pip, Morgan's changeling love-interest and his mortal counterpart. Their situations and backgrounds are almost necessarily interesting. Yet Balog doesn't really explore these characters or their idiosyncrasies. The potential is there, but Balog fails to really "go there"; in this sense we have bare bones that promise much but fail to live up to that promise.

As a reader, however, what I found most annoying about this novel was simply Balog's writing style. Balog's choice to write the novel consistenly in present tense does not manage to convey a sense of urgency or immediacy the way that the carefully crafted use of the present tense should. Instead, it's merely distracting and feels almost like shoddy craftsmanship on the part of the writer. I mean, if a writer chooses to reject the convention of writing a novel in the past tense, that's fine by me; I'm all for innovation in writing. And yet, when the innovation isn't used effectively, it becomes a distraction. I don't see that the use of present tense adds anything, and Balog's novel really needs all the help it can get.

Stylistically, Balog makes a number of other choices that just didn't work for me as a reader. Specifically distracting is Balog's repetitive use of the single-word sentence. I understand the theory behind this stylistic choice -- a single word, punctuated as a sentence, works almost like an interjection; it should drive the point home clearly and concisely. However, Balog uses this structure so often that it loses any effect. For example, in pages 11-13, Morgan, our first person narrator, thinks, "Blech," and, "Huh," twice each, all four times punctuated as single-word sentence. The first "Blech" is maybe acceptable, but after that, it just doesn't work and becomes a distraction.

Morgan is our narrator, and her voice is the one that dominates the novel. Again, this has the potential to make the novel interesting, but Balog fails to meet expectations. Morgan's voice just doesn't strike me as authentic. Sometimes, she merely recedes into the background, a very vanilla narrator, so much so that I tend to forget that she even is the narrator, her narrative presence being so weak. Other times, her voice just seems contrived. For example, Morgan describes her boyfriend Cam as "droolworthy" several times; this word strikes me as particularly contrived. Or maybe it's just such an ugly word that I sincerely hope that contemporary young women, even from Jersey, don't actually use it.

I do find the novel's suggestion that our first teenage love doesn't have to be our only or our best love a particularly gratifying one. So many YA novels, particularly for female readers, fixate on the theme of teenage love and convey the idea that one's sixteen-year-old love is somehow the most pure, deep love one will ever attain. Meyers's Twilight Saga is a good example. Balog's novel, however, challenges this notion. Balog creates a protagonist who thinks she can't live without her long-time boyfriend, yet when she's forced to do so, she can. Morgan does not always meet the demands placed upon her totally gracefully, but she meets them and demonstrates resourcefulness and genuine kindness in her interactions with others. As a reward, Morgan is given a kind of second chance at love, in a relationship that we imagine will be just as fulfilling as her relationship with Cam had been. This notion that one can move on and have a love just as satisfying as one's first love is a welcome change from representations of teen love in popular culture. And this is a bright spot, a saving grace in an otherwise boring and stylistically dreary novel.

I wanted to like Fairy Tale; I really did. But it just failed to meet my expectations in so many ways. It seems like this is not necessarily a failure of imagination on the part of the author -- in fact, Balog has many interesting, even potentially innovative ideas -- but rather, this is a failure of execution, of writing. I feel bad, guilty for writing such a horrible, negative review. I wanted to enjoy this novel. On the surface anyway, it seems like exactly my kind of novel. But Balog's writing falls flat, leaving me disappointed. Had it not been such a quick read, I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish.

 

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog
Delacorte Press
ISBN: 0385737068
248 Pages

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