Fifty Page Fridays is a regular feature here at Far Beyond Reality, meant to highlight books I usually wouldn’t cover in a regular review. In each post, I start off by explaining why I wasn’t planning to review the book. Then I’ll read fifty pages (hence the name) and give my honest impression of that sample. Finally, I’ll give a verdict: do I want to read more or not?
This week’s installment of Fifty Page Fridays is about Fair Coin by E.C. Myers.
Why I wasn’t planning to review it: Put simply, even though I enjoy the occasional YA novel, it isn’t my main focus here. I’ll typically only go for YA if something about it jumps out at me, maybe because I’ve read other novels by the author (see: my review of the excellent Planesrunner by Ian McDonald) or because the premise strikes me as particularly interesting. If I’m going to make an exception, it’s usually for secondary world fantasy or dystopian SF or one of the many other sub-genres I’m particularly interested in. In the case of Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, none of those applied, and its premise struck me as rather uninteresting (more about that below) so this one was going to go straight into the donations box. I decided to give it a try for Fifty Page Fridays because I’ve recently been in the mood for lighter, easy reading, so I’ve been reaching for YA more often than usual. I actually just read a very entertaining YA fantasy (Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell, review soon) so I thought I’d try my luck again.
My thoughts after fifty pages: The premise is your basic wish-granting moral dilemma, put in the hands of a teenager: Ephraim finds a coin that appears to grant wishes. Flip it, make a wish, and it comes true, rearranging reality around the wish. In the opening chapter, Ephraim comes home to find his mother passed out, clutching a bottle of vodka and a bottle of pills. While she is in the hospital, recovering from her suicide attempt, he wishes that she weren’t in the hospital anymore and, hey presto, when he arrives at the ward during visiting hours it turns out that, not only is she not there anymore, no one even remembers her ever being there. Later, he wishes that the girl he has a crush on would be more into him, and before you know it she’s inviting him to a party. While all of this is happening, there are several hints that the wishes have side-effects and that things don’t always work out the way you’d expect, starting with the original reason for the suicide attempt.
This premise doesn’t do much for me, to be honest. It’s so recognizable that, unless there’s something else about the book that’s exceptional, it would probably not be enough to hold my attention. Unfortunately, there’s really nothing else about these first fifty pages that rises above the average.
The characters are, to a person, faceless and bland, starting with main character Ephraim, whose main distinction in these first few chapters seems to be that he cares enough for his alcoholic mother to try and keep her out of trouble with her boss, and that he achieved perfect attendance in school. Otherwise, there’s just nothing that makes him stand out. At all. Ephraim has a crush on an equally faceless girl, who is described as either geeky or cute or a combination of those two words. She’s popular even though she’s geeky. She works at the library. That’s about it for her, in terms of distinguishing characteristics. Jena’s best friends are two gorgeous identical twins. Their names are Mary and Shelley, which is just about the only original and interesting thing I can say about them. Ephraim’s best friend side-kick Nathan carries around his camera, taking pictures all day, and is obsessed with the hot twins. He gets stuffed in his locker by the school bully early on. Aside from that… well, nothing else that stands out, really. It’s almost unbelievable, but none of these people have a single feature that makes them particularly interesting to read about. They all feel like bland side characters in a Disney high school drama. Aside from Ephraim’s mother’s suicide attempt, E.C. Myers does absolutely nothing in these first fifty pages to make these characters stand out or connect with the reader.
Combine all of this with prose that’s so unassuming that it straddles the line between conversational and pedestrian, and you’ve got a novel that barely managed to keep my attention for the fifty or so pages I gave it.
The Verdict: I admit to being vaguely curious about where E.C. Myers is going with the effects of the various wishes, but I’ll never find out how Fair Coin ends because I have zero interest in the characters. If there had been some originality there, I might have persisted even though the prose barely rises above the “functional” level and the premise is nothing new. Alas, nothing grabbed me in these first fifty pages (five chapters in this case) so this one is going down as “did not finish.”
This may actually come as a surprise, but despite the fact that I gave up on Fair Coin out of a complete lack of interest, I firmly believe it could make E.C. Myers a good chunk of money if a decent screenwriter reworks it as a Disney movie or TV series. As a novel, it’s not a success, but the high school characters and the magical wish-granting item seems like something that would work out very well for young viewers. Couple that with the “almost losing a parent at the start of the story” trick that’s been a favorite at Disney since ancient times, and you’ve got a plot that’s almost tailor-made for them.
Further reading: For a very different opinion, check out io9.com’s review by Charlie Jane Anders.