Not long ago but far, far away (for me), a new BC publisher by the name of McKellar & Martin was born. With only four titles under their belt, it’s already easy to see they believe in quality and producing beautiful books.
YA book Fractured: Happily Never After? by Joanna Karaplis is one of them (I’ll be reviewing more soon). From the cover photo (Andreas Stridsberg) to the awesome cover and layout design (art director Mauve Pagé) and illustrations by Jenn Brisson, the book is very attractive. Each story features a different font that suits the content and doesn’t harm the book, especially since an illustration, set effectively on black facing pages, precedes each story (my favourite illustration is the first one). Even the barcode is decorated, and while this might sound like overkill, the slim volume is altogether blessed with simple, clean design.
Something about the feel of it in my hands reminds me of teachers and librarians in primary school reading to me (that’s a good thing!), the way they held the volume, turned the pages…I think it’s the size and weight of the book, and feel of the cover. Everything is listed for you in the back, in case you’re interested, from people involved to distribution to paper stock and fonts. In all, nicely done, and not surprising since it’s printed and bound by Friesens (who will be doing Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists in Gaspereau’s aid).
I first learned what a fractured fairytale is when I worked at the public library in the children’s section a few years ago. For those of you who don’t know, a fractured fairytale is, in a nutshell, a traditional fairytale that’s been rewritten, often with different characters and settings, in a way that gives us a new perspective. The first one I ever read was The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. It’s a humorous “let me tell you how it really was” take on the traditional story we all know, told this time by the “big bad wolf,” who of course insists he’s not that bad at all.
Karaplis’s three stories in Fractured are 21st-century spins on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (“Snow White and the Seven Dorks”), “Cinderella” (“Cyberella”), and “The Little Mermaid” (“Swan Song”).
In “SWATSD,” Yuki, whose name means Snow in Japanese (clever!), is a self-professed “alt/goth” city-loving teen in a small-town high school. Like many we knew, Yuki doesn’t quite fit in. Consequently, she spends most of her time in the computer lab working on her art. The lab happens to be regularly populated by seven quirky but sweet dorks who eventually take her in and become her friends. At the same time, Jason, a handsome, popular boy at school, begins to pay attention to Yuki. Where the story goes from there, I’ll let you find out.
The aptly named “Cyberella” is told through text messages between two teen friends, Matt and Cindy, and blog posts by the reality TV show True 2 Life. The show is hosting a Halloween masquerade at the Castle nightclub and Matt wins tickets for them both to go. Cindy has to sneak out, however, since her evil stepmother has forbidden her to attend the party. At the club, Cindy meets Prince Charming but also her stepmom, who’s been alerted by Cindy’s two “stepbitches.” Alas, Cindy is forced to abscond from the scene without knowing who her prince charming is. Bet you can’t guess the rest!
“Swan Song” tells the story of Adriana (Adi), a talented singer but who is nevertheless constantly bullied in school because of her large nose. Adi quits choir when one of the mean girls terribly embarrasses her, but Fiona, Adi’s best friend, comes up with a scheme that will keep Adi singing and get her entered into a talent contest. In the meantime, Adi’s mother has finally given in to her daughter’s request for a nose job, which unfortunately goes horribly, tragically wrong.
Like traditional fairytales, “SWATSD” and “Swan Song” have clear messages, but I couldn’t really find one in “Cyberella,” though I found that story my favourite of the three. In spite the struggle she mentioned having—”It was hard to make myself make typos. Seriously. I type in complete sentences, with caps and punctuation and everything! I gritted my teeth and MADE myself do it that way. Otherwise they would’ve sounded middle-aged, even if I edited”—Joanna’s uncanny ability to emulate teens texting often had me snickering aloud, even though I typically find that kind of talk annoying in real life. I had to marvel. Srsly. Perhaps her grasp on current forms of communication comes from her position as assistant editor and new media marketing manager at Annick Press (past employers include McClelland and Stewart and Raincoast). In the end, even though this story was a bit too perfect for me, it worked the way the Disney versions of fairytales work for me: they play to my romantic dreams. This seems to be the stuff many YA novels are made of (the Twilight series is a fine example), and understandably so.
I generally enjoyed “SWATSD” as well, and again Karaplis captured the teen voice extremely well. Though I did like the last part and end, I wasn’t impressed by the turn the story took before that, which I felt was somewhat cliché in current YA fiction. In general, while Joanna’s writing is good, I felt all three stories were a bit too stereotypical. At the same time, teen readers will definitely appreciate the topics, and because of Karaplis’s skill in relating to them through language and experience, the stories succeed in their purpose.
“Swan Song” was interesting. It definitely led me to think that I must reread HC Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” because I can’t remember it and thus couldn’t quite place it in Joanna’s story, except for Adi’s singing. I must be too affected by the Disney version. What I ended up thinking was that perhaps Adi’s horrid nose might have been some good fodder for exploring “mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” But then she would have had to have been a completely different character.
However, the story on its own was good, another example of a typical teen experience in terms of bullying, but also a lesson in trying to find the beauty inside oneself, learning to effect change from within. It was this fractured fairytale that reminded me most of myself in high school, a passionate singer who was nevertheless in short supply of self-esteem. I was definitely along for the ride, then, until the story took an unexpected turn that didn’t work for me. I think it could have without the surprise ending; the tragedy, for me, was stretched too far.
At 120 pages, Fractured is a quick read but also an engaging one that I feel certain YA fans will enjoy. Karaplis does a very good job at making the book current and accessible in terms of familiar things like reality TV and communication via blogging, texting, and YouTube, but also through common teen events and emotions. I marvelled at her ability to so effectively connect on such a level. She certainly has no apparent difficulty with YA fiction in this respect.
I think my regret, for I did have one at the end, was not actually the small disappointments I had with the plots (or finding “Adriana” and “Adrianna”), which were otherwise well written, but rather that there were only three stories. While it did take Karaplis two years to finish this book (she explains below), and, importantly, while three is often a significant and magic number in fairytales, (three wishes, three feats, three siblings, etc.), I would have liked to have seen a larger collection; perhaps seven (also a significant number) stories might have done the trick.
Okay, I have to confess that I get a fail in this section. Joanna actually wrote her own questions for this interview, and of course answered them. This is because while I happily agreed to host her on her blog tour, I bit off more than I could chew and was unable to fulfill my part of the responsibility other than posting my review. It’s my fault she had to do the extra work—and yet. I’m glad, too. I think it’s a good idea for authors to get to answer questions they wish they were asked rather than to have to repeat themselves when redundant and unoriginal questions are posed. So here’s what debut author Joanna Karaplis wants you to know about Fractured.
How long did it take you to write Fractured?
Fractured was written on and off over a two-year period, emphasis on off. A lot was happening in my life: I’d been laid off from my job and ended up deciding to move from Vancouver to Toronto in search of work. So I was taking night school courses, getting to know a new city, looking for a job, and trying to finish Fractured… it was a pretty busy time. I’m hoping my next book doesn’t take quite that long, but life does have a habit of getting in the way! This year, I thought I’d give myself a kick in the butt by doing National Novel Writing Month. I’m pretty far behind already, but at least I’ve written 10,000 words in two weeks, which is way more than I usually write.
All of the stories in Fractured take place in high school. How closely are they based on your own high school experiences?
I drew on my own experiences, of course, but a lot has changed technology-wise since I graduated high school in 1997. Facebook wasn’t even invented yet! (Yes, there was life before Facebook. Facebook has only been around for less than seven years, you know.) But lots of things remain the same: it can be hard to find a group of people you click with, some people seem determined to make your life hell and you have no idea why, there’s a lot of homework and tests, and it’s hard to concentrate on school when you’re trying to figure out if your crush likes you back.
And of course there was still bullying back before everyone was online, but it was always carried out in person. (Although, come to think of it, I was once bullied over the phone! But it’s pretty easy to hang up.) When I was trying to imagine how teens might bully each other online, I searched Facebook groups and found some devoted to calling a classmate a slut or a bitch. I was surprised not only by how many teens joined groups like that (remember, these were public groups!), but also by how nasty their comments were. It was obvious that they weren’t afraid of getting into trouble, and that they were enjoying the drama. I used groups like that as the basis for the bullying that Adriana endures in “Swan Song.”
What are your goals as a writer?
I want to write stories that people can enjoy and identify with. I’d love to be able to put out a book every year or two, but that’s a pretty lofty goal given that I have a full-time job and am not the most disciplined writer. Oh well, something to work towards!
I also want to be able to talk to my readers through Twitter, my blog, and whatever other media become available. Writing can be a bit isolating, and you never know what readers think of your stories until they tell you. So please feel free to drop by and say hi sometime!
Thank you, Joanna! And thank you, also, for sending me a physical copy of your book instead of a digital file. Yes, it does have that new book smell! Yum.
For all the stops on Joanna’s tour, please visit:
Nov. 15: Steph Su Reads and Word bookstore
Nov. 16: Word of Mouse Book Reviews and Bella’s Bookshelves
Nov. 17: The Reading Girl and Between the Pages
Nov. 18: Page Turners and Tahleen’s Mixed-Up Files
Nov. 19: YA Addict and YA Book Shelf