I ended up reading this book by accident. I thought I’d requested a book with the same title written by Victer Lavelle, but this is what showed up at the library when I went to pick it up. Since I was already there I figured I’d give it ago. And I’m glad I did as this was one of the most adorable, wonderful books I’ve read in a while.
First, every single major player in this book is female. And not a whiny, incapable cipher of a female, but a full fledged, kick-ass, rocking socking, smart-ass female. It was incredibly refreshing and I loved every minute of it. When I finished this book, I actually debated purchasing it so I could have it on my bookshelf just in case I ever have kids.
Changeling follows the adventure of Neef, who lives in New York Between, which is a world full of magical creatures and fairy stories. She was chosen as the Central Park Changeling as a toddler and has lived under the care of her fairy godparents in New York Between learning all she can about fairy lore and surviving in the fairy culture because faeries aren’t actually nice people. They’re tricksters, divas, troublemakers, and users who enjoy taking the mickey out of humans. So Neef has learned everything she can to trick, trouble, and use back. As she gets older, she gets bored with her schedule and her daily existence and wants to go seeking her own fairy adventure after doing so much research about them. But in a series of teenage mistakes, Neef ends up getting just what she asked for, but of course it turns out to be nothing that she wanted. She’s forced to go on a quest that will take her far out of Central Park into the unknown world of New York Between.
Sherman is an excellent writer, weaving the parts of New York City that everyone’s familiar with into her own version of fairy tradition. Central Park is run by the Green Lady, the Metropolitan Museum’s artwork are their own docents, mermaids gather up the garbage in Battery Park’s Harbor, and a gold hoarding dragon is the head banker of Wall Street. New York Between even has its own subway system. There is no detail left undiscovered about the fairy world. Neef is our guide through the twisting, turning world of Faerie that becomes so familiar that the real New York recedes and all that’s left is the magic. Her world is fully formed involving different cultures and norms that change from borough to borough, and Neef’s discovery of these new cultures adds to her own knowledge of the faerie world, making her a competent and involved narrator for this piece.
Sherman’s greatest craft is her cleverness, turning the usual and mundane of our world into the fantastic for Neef. When she meets another human girl who has Asburgers, she simply assumes the girl has fairy qualities and treats her as such, focusing not on the girl’s ‘otherness,’ but how to effectively communicate with her in a way that comforts the girl and includes her. Neef’s friend has a magical box that gives her food and a magical bag that provides her with spending money called ‘microwave’ and ‘budget’ respectively. The dragon’s scales look like a pin-stripe suit, and Neef’s “keep-awake” charm is just plain old-fashioned coffee.
Neef is in no way the hero of her own story, and she doesn’t try to be one, even though she knows that’s her ‘role’ in her particular quest. While she’s a smart kid, and is more than well equipped to be the hero of this narrative, she’s aware of her own short-comings and knows when to bow out of the way for someone else to use their talents to solve the problem. Even when she’s upset with herself or frustrated, Neef never veers into the whiny, or woe-is-me territory. She takes responsibility, has a little cry, and gets back to business. She’s a lovely character and I was sad to leave her when the adventure ended.
5 stars for great female protagonists, clever devices, and stellar craft.