Jennifer's Reviews > Fairy Bad Day

Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby
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Jun 26, 2011

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bookshelves: extended-reviews
Read from June 26 to July 01, 2011

For a book devoid of any projectile-delivering weapons, there sure is a lot of "shooting" going on in Fairy Bad Day. You can find it nearly anywhere there's extended interaction between characters, but let's just look at two sections of the book for a few examples:

169: Emma shot her friend a grateful smile
170: Loni shot her an apologetic look
172: Emma shot her friend a doubtful look
178: Emma shot her a sympathetic glance
181: She shot Curtis a grateful look
182: he shot her a rueful smile
206: Emma shot her friend a rueful grin

272: she shot him a shy smile
277: She shot him a final parting glance
278: Emma immediately shot Curtis a look of sympathy
282: He shot her a lopsided grin

Other examples abound. I understand that shooting glances, etc., has unfortunately become part of the so-called style of many YA writers (all of whose books, like this one, are essentially clones in their stylelessness), but such overuse pushes the book close to parody. Besides, the intent of the verb shot is to convey action, intensity, and force -- as such, using it with "shy smile" or even "sympathetic glance" negates the shyness and the sympathy, neither of which is a strong or forceful act.

Ashby also succumbs to another YA style convention: that of adding a descriptive word or action to nearly every statement made by a character. To wit, this bit of consecutive dialogue from the bottom of page 67 to halfway down page 71. (The words spoken by the characters are left out.)

Curtis demanded
Emma retorted
Emma sighed
she commanded
Rupert called out
Trevor added
Curtis demanded
Emma replied
Rupert called out
Curtis protested
she hissed
he yelped
Emma demanded
Curtis retorted
Rupert said
Emma yelled
the fairy yelled
Emma retorted

At this point, the demanding and retorting and calling out ceases for half a page, and then resumes in various guises. Elsewhere, as on pages 204 - 205, Ashby does a better job of letting her characters speak for themselves, but her habit still persists:

Emma croaked
Curtis demanded
Loni finally croaked
Curtis eventually coughed

(Those last two are in back to back sentences, and they're so similar that the reader can practically see the thesaurus lying open by the writer's computer.)

The main point here is that dialogue should flow, so whenever possible, the simple but invisible "he/she said" should suffice. In most cases, the descriptors won't be missed. Additionally, using so many descriptive verbs can lead to duplication. Let's take "Loni finally croaked" as an example. The full sentence is:

"Here?" Loni finally croaked, and Emma couldn't help but notice that her friend's face was ashen.

Replacing "finally croaked" with "said" puts the emphasis on the second part of the sentence thereby elevating it in importance. As it stands, however, neither part assumes superiority as each basically conveys the same image, while the first part, since we just read a few lines back that "Emma croaked", loses its impact. Plus, the next sentence, as already pointed out, is an echo of this one. So, one simple change and three problems are taken care of.

Young adult readers, I suppose the thinking goes, are a) unable to remember who's talking in a conversation, and b) incapable of grasping a character's emotions from the dialogue itself. But both of these are the writer's burden, not the reader's. A competent storyteller will be able to handle conversation in such a manner that the reader will be able to distinguish the speaker and the emotion behind his words with a minimum of authorial intrusion. Some expository description, some color, is fine; too much though, and a conversation becomes an exchange of descriptions, not of words and ideas, and the pace of the novel slows.

Too many young adult authors take for their models other young adult authors, and while it's certainly valuable for a genre author to read as many books in her chosen field as possible, they should be the classics of that genre, not what's currently popular. Look at the award winners each year -- they stand out for several reasons, the main one being the authors' distinctive yet transparent writing style. These are the books an aspiring YA writer should digest. But more importantly, every writer should read and study the very best, regardless of genre. Watch how Hardy and Austen handle dialogue, how Scott's descriptions leap off the page, or how Shakespeare injects all manner of emotion into his lines without a single "he retorted" or "she protested". The imagination of her readers is a writer's greatest asset and one that should be allowed room to fully expand and not be restricted or restrained in any way.

Even given a few other problems*, Fairy Bad Day isn't horrible for what it is intended to be -- disposable reading. It has the requisite likable protagonist, and the plot and setting are interesting. I especially enjoyed the trio of small, annoying fairies. The ending though, is unsatisfying. (SPOILER ALERT!! The antagonist, fighting for his very existence, strangely allows the all but beaten heroes to live when he could have slain them in a matter of seconds. Also, Emma's decision to remain a fairy slayer, with nothing to do but "keep an eye on things", when she could have her dream job of dragon slayer, is ridiculous.)

Like so many other YA books I've read, this could have been much better. I get that Ashby's trying to make a living, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I hate to see talent wasted and skills underused. A little extra work on her part and a desire to write something above the ordinary could have produced exactly that.

"Maybe next time," Jennifer sighed, shooting the author a hopeful look.

(*For instance, on page 290 our 'demanding' friend, Curtis, says to Emma, "That thing opened up your window and destroyed Loni's wards." But he couldn't know about that as he wasn't anywhere around when Emma mentioned it.)
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06/26/2011 page 262
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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alyssa  jackman wow you have a lot of time on your hands

Jennifer LOL!! Not really. I only write the occasional long review, generally when something either truly annoys me or is exceptional. Or, as in this case, when a book has a great deal of potential to be extremely good, but then flounders because the author and her editor settled for something less. (But hey, I'm a writer and former editor so certain things bug me a LOT more than they do other folks.)

alyssa  jackman Jennifer wrote: "LOL!! Not really. I only write the occasional long review, generally when something either truly annoys me or is exceptional. Or, as in this case, when a book has a great deal of potential to be ex..."

oh well if your a writer and a editor then I see how things would bug you haha :)

Chuck I read your review, I read the book, I read the book with your critic in mind. I didn't see it. A third of the way through the book I convinced myself your comment was made about a different book. I really found the author used sufficiently diverse vocabulary when describing the little nuances of interaction between the characters.

Jennifer Hmmm. Well, the page numbers are in the review, along with an abundance of quoted examples. I could have pulled several dozen more samples of the author's repetitive writing from my notes, but a review has to stop somewhere. Or does it?Let's take a quick, representative look at Ashby's prose, focusing on her excessive use of a particular word or phrase. During the course of roughly three pages (the latter three instances occur within half a page of one another), we have: Curtis growled (71); Gilbert growled (73); Trevor growled (74); Rupert growled (74). You'd think it was a werewolf convention. Next, beginning on 273, in less than a page we find: Tyler looked alarmed; Loni looked at her; Emma looked at Loni blankly; Tyler looked at her blankly. Characters incessantly widen their eyes, blink in surprise, shoot looks, stare blankly, "cough", "correct", "demand" (Oh, how they demand!), "retort", "croak", and so on. A writer can delude herself into believing this a form of diversity, but in reality she is overwhelming and undermining her prose. Ashby paints herself into these stylistic corners because, as I pointed out in my review, she insists on coloring nearly every bit of dialogue with a descriptor. It's not a matter of taste or opinion; the fact is, the majority are simply unnecessary evils. Frankly, it's Writing 101: Be creative -- vary the structure of your sentences, and don't overuse words or phrases. I happen to like Amanda Ashby, and I'm confident that if she put forth the effort, she could do much better.

By the way, I'm pretty sure I reviewed the right book. I've been doing this writing/editing/teaching gig for many years.

Thanks for the comment!

Sarah Kate Agree completely

Sarah Kate It got SOOOOO repetitive

Katie Maybe that is why I had such a hard time liking this book.

message 9: by Lucifer (new)

Lucifer This review is amazing! Totally bought a new perspective of YA books to me.
Will definitely pick and choose with more care

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