Review of the Day: Changeling
When you find yourself a New York resident living and worked right smack dab in the center of this magnificently overblown city, you being to lose your perspective. Sure, I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but living in Manhattan is like drinking from the water of Lethe. I forget little things, like the fact that the world does not, in fact, revolve around NYC. So when I pick up something like “Changeling”, I find myself in a difficult situation. The book is a heckuva lot of fun, but I have to remember that all the places in it are New York-based. My responsibility as a reviewer, then, is to determine how well “Changeling” will relate to a kid living in Alaska or Hawaii. Will non-New Yorker children enjoy this book? Well, quite frankly I can’t see how they wouldn’t. I mean, it’s not the deepest piece of fiction you'll ever peruse, but it certain does owe a certain amount of allegiance to the form and function of fairy tales and quests. Plus it’s fun. Did I mention that its fun?
We’ve all read plenty of stories from the point of view of Changelings in the past. Sometimes, as I’m sure you all know, a human baby will be exchanged for its fairy Changeling double. The Changeling will grow up as a human, never quite knowing why it's different from its fellows. Well Neef isn’t a Changeling, but a child stolen by the fairies at quite a young age. Since then she has grown up in Central Park as the official Central Park Changeling. Her world exists apart from the world we live in, where all sorts of supernatural beings interact. As a human, Neef is naturally curious and when her curiosity upsets the Green Lady of Central Park (the ruling Genius) she comes in direct contact with the Changeling that once replaced her. Now Neef and Changeling are bound on an impossible quest to get the both of them home as fast as humanly, or rather magically, possible.
There’s no denying that the book has a distinctly Manhattan (not Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, or Bronx) feel. The Green Lady of Central Park, for example, could have sounded like your standard Midsumer Night’s Dream fairy queen. Instead, she’s far more prone to say things like, “Okay, kid, here’s the scoop.” And then there are little details, like the fact that even otherworldly spirits would kill to see “Wicked” on Broadway, if they could. I appreciated too the fact that Sherman wasn’t afraid to play with some old NYC standards. For example, the author had the wherewithal to notice that Kay Thompson’s, “Eloise”, is a good example of pure unvarnished evil. In this book she rules the Plaza Hotel and is the “official Patroness of Spoiled Brats everywhere.” Also, though I’m sure it’ll stick in the craw of some, for better or for worse George M. Cohan is now a vampire (and that goes double for Lynn Fontanne).
I did have a bit of a problem with the book equating Asperger’s Syndrome with Changlings. It seemed a risky correlation for Ms. Sherman to make. She’s never blatant about it, of course, but a quick examination of Changeling’s personality (she says that when she was younger she needed a therapist to help her develop social skills) coupled with the note in the book’s Acknowledgment section that reads that someone, “gave me an invaluable education on Asperger’s Syndrome”, was enough to put my hair on end. We don’t really want to equate Asperger’s with someone being physically from another world, do we?
So how does the book hold together as a whole? It’s very nice. For anyone who enjoys a good series of impossible quests, this book may be right up their alley. The character of Neef is willful without ever becoming annoying or unsympathetic. I was a little surprised at the ending, personally, but it’s entirely possible that Ms. Sherman is setting this book up to be the first in a series, if it does well. The types of fairies found here also have the same feel as those you’ll see in Eoin Colfer’s, “Artemis Fowl”, so fans of one may enjoy the other. And Sherman is kind enough to provide us with an elaborate glossary of the supernatural beings that crop up in this book.
And now, a personal kvetch. Early in the book we learn that, “Important New York places – Wall Street, Broadway, Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, the Village – have Geniuses.” Very cool. And just at the beginning of Neef’s quest it is suggested that she visit the library to get some useful information. I, an employee of such a system, was briefly delighted. Then Neef doesn’t go, and we never get a glimpse of an otherworldly library system. Alas. The mentions of the library (there are two) suggest to me that there may have been a scene there in an early “Changeling” draft and that they were cut out so as to keep the narrative flowing smoothly. And while I celebrate the hopping speed of the book itself . . . bummer.
All in all, a pleasant little creation that deserves a look-see. Both Tamora Pierce and Holly Black were kind enough to give blurbs for the final book, so if you know of anyone who enjoys titles by either of them, you may wish to consider handing this little number over as well. A New York book that doesn’t require that you live here to appreciate it. And in spite of the all too obvious lack of librarians, a great read.
Notes On the Cover: Okay. Who did Delia Sherman’s agent bribe to get this magnificent cover? I mean, seriously people. Do you know what the odds are that a person with their first stand-alone children’s book (she’s worked on children’s anthologies in the past) would get this kind of eye-popping glamour? Very very high. I’m reviewing off an ARC here, so I can’t tell you who the cover artist or designer was that came up with this most spectacular piece of fantasy-laden magnificence. Needless to say, if a kid is into fairies, you will find yourself completely and wholly unable to wrench this puppy from their sticky little hands. My sole objection is that Neef is often referred to in this book as having a round belly. The waif on this cover, however, looks like she could use a sandwich or two. Otherwise, it’s perfect perfect perfect. Viking really does spend quality time on their covers.