review of YA fantasy How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

I enjoyed reading How to Ditch Your Fairy so much, I didn’t want the book to end. If you like fantasy or magic realism, you’ll want to pick up this book. It has the things that make a great read–a likable character, a unique and pressing problem (she needs to get rid of her fairy), enjoyable fantasy and magic, tension, and some romantic interest.

How to Ditch Your Fairy

by Justine Larbalestier

Bloomsbury USA (October 2008)

ISBN-10: 1599903016, ISBN-13: 978-1599903019

Ages: 12 and up

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have a parking fairy. I’m fourteen years old. I can’t drive. I don’t like cars and I have a parking fairy.
Rochelle gets a clothes-shopping fairy and is always well-attired; I get a parking fairy and always smell faintly of gasoline. How fair is that? I love clothes and shopping too. Yes, I have a fine family (except for my sister, ace photographer Nettles, and even she’s tolerable sometimes) and yes, Rochelle’s family is malodorous. She does deserve some kind of compensation. But why couldn’t I have, I don’t know, a good-hair fairy? Or, not even that doos, a loose-change-finding fairy. Lots of people have that fairy. Rochelle’s dad, Sandra’s cousin, Mom’s best friend’s sister. I’d wholly settle for a loose-change fairy.

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier, p. 14.

Fourteen-year-old Charlie, like most people in New Avalon, has a personal fairy. But Charlie doesn’t like her fairy, and with good reason. Her fairy is a parking fairy, which means that every time Charlie is in a car, the perfect parking spot is found, even when it wouldn’t normally be available. This means that family, friends, and acquaintances often “borrow” Charlie when they’re doing errands, just so they can get a parking space. So Charlie sets out trying to find a way to get rid of her fairy. She starts walking everywhere, never getting in a vehicle that would need a parking space, hoping to bore her fairy and make her leave. This causes problems, though, since Charlie is often late for school or class and starts getting demerits. Too many demerits.

As pressure rises, Charlie gets more desperate to get rid of her fairy. Fiorenza, a girl at Charlie’s school who has a fairy that makes all the boys her age “like” her, also wants to get rid of her fairy. At first Charlie doesn’t trust her, and starts disliking her when Steffi, the boy she’s interested in, falls for Fiorenza like all the other boys, but eventually the two work together to find a way to get rid of their fairies for good.

The story really took off in chapter three; that’s where I got really interested in Charlie, and started caring about her. The book has a good forward momentum, with Charlie’s trying to solve her fairy problem creating other problems in her life. The tension builds, pushing Charlie to try greater and greater things to get rid of her fairy. Early on in the book, the reader discovers why Charlie wants to get rid of her fairy so badly early on in the book–Charlie’s extended family, and even neighbors, frequently “borrow” her just so they can get a parking space when they do errands. This works beautifully, since Charlie’s determination to get rid of her fairy propels the book forward, and it helps the reader root for her. When we see Danders, a bully, abduct Charlie several times to get parking (which sets her back in her getting rid of her fairy) this increases the tension and makes the reader root for Charlie’s goal all the more. It pulled the book together. A small thing that didn’t work for me was that people using Charlie to get parking felt almost abusive, and it made me wonder why her parents, especially her father who doesn’t believe in fairies, would allow that to happen. But Larebalestier made me understand on an emotional level why Charlie wanted to get rid of her fairy.

I liked Charlie. She’s intelligent, has determination and grit, and eventually stood up for herself. She’s likable, tries to do the right thing, and, with a little help, sees past her prejudice and into the real person (Fiorenza). She also wants things that many readers will identify with, such as to be liked, to get a love interest, and to make her life easier. Readers may also enjoy gaining insight earlier than Charlie does (such as about Fiorenza), though at times Charlie’s obtuseness about Fiorenza was, at least for me, irritating and slightly unbelievable. I was glad when she began to see the truth. Charlie, Steffi, and Fiorenza all felt like well rounded, believable characters. Charlie’s two other friends didn’t feel distinct or as fully sketched, but for the most part, that didn’t detract from the story.

Steffi works as a great romantic interest. He is kind, interested in Charlie (until he gets to school and is sideswiped by Fiorenza’s liked-by-boys fairy), supportive, but out of reach for most of the book, which deepens the romantic tension. He also helps the book work in several other ways–because he’s new to town, some things are explained to him by Charlie and her friends that also helps the reader understand them. This works very well for introducing information that otherwise might be a dump for readers. And because Steffi is outspoken and criticizes New Avalon’s self-obsession, he helps Charlie grow a little.

One thing I didn’t believe was Charlie’s excitement about getting the all-boys-will-like-you fairy, and, even after seeing how all the boys lost their minds around her, enjoying it at first. The boys were so clearly not themselves, finding her attractive and “liking” her against their will (which isn’t really liking). I found it hard to believe that she wouldn’t react to the falseness, or that she wouldn’t expect the girls to dislike her, the way she and all the other girls had disliked Fiorenze when she’d had the same fairy. There wasn’t enough before hand to make me believe that Charlie needed that much fake ego-stroking. For me, it made her temporarily seem stupid, until she realized just how bad it was. But that was one of the only times I lost faith in Charlie; for the most part, I was right there with her, cheering her on, hoping she could lose her fairy, and feeling exhilaration when she finally does.

A small thing that didn’t work for me was that Charlie’s mother had an always-knowing-what-your-kids-are-up-to fairie. Yet she didn’t appear to know the dangerous things Charlie did near the end of the book to get rid of her fairy. Also, I found myself thrown by some of the new, made-up words throughout the book. I had to keep figuring out from the context what they meant. But I am probably in the minority of readers for that, and there is a glossary at the back to help readers out.

I loved how faries were normal in Charlie’s world. And I enjoyed how similar her society was to ours, yet different, too, with most people in New Avalon assuming the existence of fairies (and their effects). New Avalon and the characters in it had a very modern, at times futuristic, feel. I enjoyed Larbalestier’s imaginative creation of New Avalon, with entire schools dedicated to particular talents, such as arts or sports, and very specific rules for each of those schools, such as controlling the fat and protein intake that sports students took, and having to obey strict rules because rules are important in sports. The schools felt believable and real, especially because they each fit some characteristics of people with those talents.

The ending is uplifting, especially when Charlie achieves her biggest goals, and when they result in good things–finally–for Charlie. It brings a feeling of reader satisfaction–knowing that a character who struggled so hard finally gets recognition and contentment. I also really liked that Charlie was clearly going to stand up and do the right thing, though it would be hard. The book was a great read, and made me wish for a fairy of my own. 🙂

How to Ditch Your Fairy is a fun, engrossing read. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will look for more of Larbalestier’s books in the future. Highly recommended!

I won my ARC copy through a contest at Fuse #8 blog, and I’m very glad I did because I love the book.

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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