Wouldn't it be great if you could always find the perfect parking spot? Or if every time you went shopping, all the most amazing clothes looked perfect on you and were on sale? Or what if you had the ability to stay out of trouble? Or to have a perfect hair day, every single day? The characters in Justine Larbalestier's new book for teens, How to Ditch Your Fairy, might have any one of these abilities—as long as they have the right fairy!
How to Ditch Your Fairy is set in the fictional city of New Avalon in the not-so-distant future. It's an Australia-meets- America kind of place, with quirky teen slang, an East Coast – West Coast rivalry, and lots and lots of sports. Larbalestier, a native of Sydney, Australia, splits her time between her hometown and frequent visits to the U.S.—most often New York City—so a mix of the two locations seemed like the perfect setting for her tale. Although the characters in her novel have troubles much like teens the world over – boyfriend dramas, clothing disasters, it-girl cliques—one thing stands out in this brave new world: everyone has a personal fairy. Whether they like their fairies, however, is quite another matter.
Our story follows 14-year-old Charlie, a freshman at a sports-focused private school, who has been blessed with having, of all things, a parking fairy. Unfortunately, Charlie doesn't appreciate this would-be good luck charm. Not only is she too young to drive, her relatives, friends and neighbors enlist her to help solve their parking crises. Larbalestier got the idea for the book while on vacation in Australia after seeing firsthand how helpful a parking fairy could be. "I was on holiday in Queensland, and one of our friends kept finding great parking spots at the busiest beach resorts," the author says by phone during one of her recent stays in the U.S. When she was asked to write a short story for a series an editor-friend was publishing, an idea came to her: "What if there was such a thing as a parking fairy, but you were too young for it to be useful?"
The idea stuck. Once she started writing, however, the story grew too long for the assignment. So instead of using it as a short story, Larbalestier turned it into a novel. It became her fourth published work of fiction, after the acclaimed Magic or Madness trilogy (Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, Magic's Child). The award-winning author has been writing since she was a child; to support her writing habit through early adulthood, Larbalestier took a few less creative jobs: she worked as a receptionist, a waitress, in tech support and as an academic. At one point, she even trained to be a massage therapist. Her writing efforts finally paid off in 2003, when her trilogy was picked up by Penguin Razorbill. These days, she writes full-time with no need for moonlighting money. However, she does one additional job for free: she serves as the personal editor for fellow YA/fantasy writer Scott Westerfeld, who happens to be her husband.
"It's great actually," Larbalestier says. "We both have an editor on tap, and we've gotten into the habit of reading each other's chapters out loud—so we can tell if either of us is getting bored or getting a laugh out of it."Like several characters in Fairy, Larbalestier is a major sports fan. "I am completely obsessed with women's basketball," she says, "especially the New York Liberty." For the book, she was intent on showing what it would be like if everyone was truly into sports—and how that might affect them in various ways.
"There didn't seem to be many YA books for girls about sport, and I know there are just as many really popular female athletes as male athletes," she says. The main character, Charlie, is an avid basketball player and other characters in the book excel in everything from track, to lacrosse, to luge. Growing up, Larbalestier dabbled in fencing, tennis and swimming, and during the Beijing Olympics, she kept a blog tallying each country's medals – and providing her own commentary about which country she thought had won overall.
While the author doesn't believe that fairies actually exist, she wouldn't mind having one occasionally. "I think some people have an extraordinary amount of luck in certain areas that are inexplicable," Larbalestier says. The clothes-shopping thing, for instance: she has a friend like that. "I know a few people who have the opposite, too," she claims, "like a 'getting-ignored-at -restaurants' fairy." Larbalestier wouldn't mind having the clothes-shopping fairy for herself, or she readily admits, a "not-to-procrastinate" fairy. But her greatest wish seems to be a little more time- and space- oriented: "I would really like one that makes the flight from New York to Sydney much shorter," the frequent traveler says. Now that would be a lucky fairy indeed.
Heidi Henneman is searching for her personal fairy in New York City.