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November 12, 2015

Fairy Tale Adaptation Series - Post 2

While plenty of books are wholly original, no one can claim that literature is immune to trends. TWILIGHT set off an entire slew of vampire titles, and dystopians flooded the young adult market for years. In 2015, books featuring protagonists with mental health issues have dominated the YA scene.
In this blog series, Teen Board member Alison S. takes a look at another trend that continues to stay strong in adult and YA literature alike --- fairy tale adaptations. Her first post discussed Gregory Maguire’s CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER. Her second post, below, covers Janette Rallison's MY FAIR GODMOTHER.

In MY FAIR GODMOTHER’s first five pages alone, novelist Janette Rallison throws around such far-fetched concepts as fairy godmothers, fairy godmother colleges, fairy godmother graduate schools, leprechauns, elf mind-reading and imperfections in teen grammar. (Teen girls overusing “like”? The stuff those fantasy writers dream up!) If my last post discussed CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER’s bleak realism, this post will give you a glimpse into Rallison’s romanticized portrayal of reality.

Granted, the novel’s opening chapters don’t exactly scream “idealized depiction of high school”; protagonist Savannah Delano’s boyfriend dumps her for her sister mere weeks before prom, and --- as if that weren’t humiliating enough --- he offers Savannah his mousy friend Tristan as a pity date. So in the first of her trademark half-baked plans, our protagonist resolves to land herself a new (and improved!) boyfriend before prom night.

After a catastrophic pool party involving a diving board, a loose swimsuit top and all the school’s most eligible bachelors, Savannah needs nothing short of a fairy godmother to salvage her dreams of prom glory.

Lucky for her, Savannah has just become “fair” godmother Chrysanthemum Everstar’s extra credit assignment. Unluckily, however, Chrissy mangles Savannah’s wish for a fairytale prom date big time: our protagonist endures two disastrous months as Cinderella and Snow White while Tristan faces permanent exile in the middle ages.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in young adult lit: the one-flaw protagonist. Now, for a lone flaw to guard your character against Mary Sue-ism, it has to, you know, flaw your protagonist in some way. (Sorry, studying too much doesn’t qualify).

That’s why I loved MY FAIR GODMOTHER. Though kind-hearted and charmingly goofy, Savannah flings herself into whatever noble-intentioned, half-baked plan she dreams up. An extreme slacker in all things academic, she somehow perseveres through long, hard hours of hair-styling, makeup application and general teenage materialism. At one point, she even threatens to bash in an old woman’s skull...using a laundry paddle. (To be fair, it seems a lot saner in context.) Sure, she might come off as vain, impulsive, short-sighted --- but, above all else, Savannah’s human.

Unfortunately, MY FAIR GODMOTHER shares its protagonist’s imperfection. Rallison’s tone veers from the conversational breeziness of a Snapchat story to sleek, almost poetic lyricism to “you should really try harder in school”-style moralizing. Though Savannah’s first two wishes inspire some of the novel’s funniest scenes, they also slow the action and distract from the overall plot.

But you wouldn’t let a few warts keep you from kissing the frog, so why let a few flaws keep you from this modern fairytale? Some of Chrissy’s antics might earn more cringes than laughs, but Savannah and Tristan’s romance will evoke nostalgia for the adolescence you never had. Looking for the meaning of life? Look elsewhere (specifically, A HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, page 180). But if you need a smile, a laugh, or an escape, MY FAIR GODMOTHER has got you covered.

Alison S. is a Teen Board member.