Review: Fair Coin by E.C. Myers

Fair CoinIt’s not often these days that you come across a stunning, fast-paced, cleverly-plotted teen novel that’s just about a kid wishing he was someone else in a genre that’s rife with vampires, werewolves, fairies, witches, and literal battle royales where you’re pitted against your fellow teens for a year’s supply of food in post-apocalyptic worlds. This gripping, insomnia-inducing tale by E.C. Myers has a rather simple story: haven’t you ever wished you could change something in your life with just a wish and a flip of the coin? This modern adaptation of W.W. Jacobs’ “Monkey’s Paw” (which scared the crap out of me when I was a kid and made me afraid to wish for anything for fear it would come true… with some scary-ass, dramatically ironic consequences) with a dash of theoretical physics, magic, teen angst, and romance and blended together with a healthy dose of snark was a hell of a good read that made me stay up until three in the morning. When is the sequel coming? There’s got to be a sequel, right? I have no idea what the author would do with our poor, beleaguered protagonist Ephraim Scott since the novel wraps up quite nicely, but I need MOAR from E.C. Myers, damn it. Crank it out!

The Plot as I Understood It: Ephraim “Eph” Scott is not the happiest sixteen-year-old kid you’ll meet. His father died when he was a kid and his mother, when not passed out drunk on the couch, works late hours at the local supermarket as a cashier. Eph not only takes care of his mother like he’s the parent instead of the child, but he also takes over her shifts at the supermarket whenever she can’t make it to work. His only escape is school where he gets to hang out with his nerdy, wise-cracking best friend Nathan and peek surreptitiously at the nerdy, beautiful, but unapproachable Jenna, who wouldn’t notice him even if he spontaneously combusted in front of her. But Eph’s challenged, but ultimately predictable life takes a turn for the weird when he comes home and finds his mother unconscious in the kitchen with a bottle of vodka and an empty bottle of pills. Panicked, Eph wakes up his mother and she tells him she tried to kill herself because she just came home from the morgue where Ephraim was supposedly dead and so hopelessly mangled from being crushed by a bus that he could only be identified by his library card. Wut?! Eph accompanies his mother to the hospital where he meets a kind nurse who is the mother to the two most beautiful girls in school, Mary and Shelley (their father is an English professor), the twinly objects of unrequited affection of his best friend Nathan. The nurse allows Eph to stay with his mother even after visiting hours. He looks through the things left behind by the body whom everyone seems to think is Ephraim and he finds the wallet identical to his as well as a 1998 limited edition quarter from the state of Puerto Rico… wait a minute… scratch that. Puerto Rico is not a state. Right? ::checks Wikipedia:: Okey-dokey, then. Where were we?

Ephraim is bemused by the coin, but keeps it with him (he collects state quarters) and the next day, finds a note in his locker telling him to flip the coin and make a wish. Eph is a smart kid and doesn’t really believe in whimsical fuckery, but he’s also a teenager in a desperate situation. In a weak moment while alone in his room, he makes a half-hearted wish that his mother isn’t a useless drunk and flips the coin (heads). When he wakes up the next day, his mother is cooking him breakfast in the kitchen and she looks younger and healthier than he has ever seen her. She has a great job, is dating a nice guy, and doesn’t remember ever going to the hospital for attempted suicide. Eph goes to the hospital to check out the body that his mother had thought was him in the first place, but no one in the hospital knows what he’s talking about and Mary and Shelley’s nurse mother doesn’t remember ever meeting him. He also encounters the school bully whose favorite hobby is beating up on his best friend Nathan and stuffing him in lockers—and he looks like he just got the stuffing beaten out of him. The bully tells Eph that Nathan had done it and Eph can hardly believe it. At school, he comes across his best friend Nate, but he’s different somehow—snarkier and there is a cruel edge to his jokes. Adding to Eph’s confusion, Mary, one of the hot twins, seems to be interested in him and Jenna is all of sudden not too indifferent to his existence. Could the wish he made on the coin really make all of this happen? But why is this world so vastly different from the world he knew? How could an off-handed wish for his mother not to be a drunk anymore affect the world in such a way that Nate has turned into a bit of a jerk and Mary and Jenna, the two hottest girls in schools, are paying attention to him?

But just when things in his life are starting to go right—Jenna has liked him all along!—he finds out that Jenna’s father just got promoted at his job and they’re going to be moving to California. Eph makes a wish that Jenna doesn’t have to move to California and boom! Jenna’s dad all of a sudden suffers from a heart attack and they don’t have to move anymore. Beset with guilt, Eph confides everything to Nate, who becomes obsessed with using the coin, so that the two of them aren’t a couple of high school losers anymore. Eph is the only one who can remember how the everything “used to be,” but if someone is touching him while the world “shifts,” that person will remember too and Nate wants to use the coin to their advantage. Eph is more concerned about setting things right, but Nate accuses him of being selfish and convinces him to wish that Shelley, one of the hot twins, is in love with Nate. But in this world, Eph also happens to be dating Mary—even though he’s really in love with Jenna—and Nate, who seems to get darker and meaner with each “shift,” finally gets Shelley and warns Eph not to mess it up. At this point, Eph’s life has gotten more complicated than it originally was and with each wish to make things “better,” it just gets more and more messed up. On top of that, there seems to be a doppelganger of Nate following them around and he is one scary dude…

Oh My Word:I’m going to stop talking about the plot now because I don’t want to ruin anything for you. But I gotta say: whatever you think this story is about, I can almost without a doubt tell you that you’d be wrong. That’s what I really like about this clever, gripping, dark, yet surprisingly funny novel: it’s original, even though it’s really just a modern take on the “Monkey’s Paw.” Eph is a rare protagonist in a teen novel that he’s not emo about every little thing nor does he whinge about every decision he has to make and annoy the crap out of the reader, prompting them to yell, “Oh for God’s sake, do something already!” This isn’t a tale where Eph gets drunk with the power of the coin, wishes for ridiculous things, realizes in the third act that he’s fucked everything up, and hurries to clean up his mess before the final act so he can get the girl. Eph is surprisingly level-headed for a teen and takes the time to look around his new surroundings and tries to figure out how his latest wish will affect everything before making the wish. Ephraim, after all, had to grow up early and take care of himself and his mother, so he’s a little more mature than your average fictional teen. Don’t get me wrong—Eph is not a precocious little shit who talks like he swallowed a dictionary; he’s just not thoughtless and inconsiderate. I found it interesting to read about the way everyone around Eph changes as he stays the same and effectively becomes an observer out of time and not really belonging anywhere because for the most part, he’s really the only one who knows how things are supposed to be. The secondary characters are also solidly written and developed. Jenna is not just somebody’s love interest: she’s smarter than Eph, pretty, and hey, she’s Asian (high-five)! Nate is not just your average bullied nerd, either: he’s got some deep, dark resentment simmering underneath and some serious I-deserve-this issues to boot. The dialogue is witty, the characterizations are spot on—the nerd isn’t just a nerd; the pretty girl is not just somebody’s prize to be won. But this book wouldn’t have worked if Eph weren’t so steady and consistent. That’s what I like about this kid: everything in the world around him can change with a wish and the flip of a coin, but he’s the same Ephraim throughout. He’s thoughtful, clever, and earnest. He really just wants to set things right. Not to say that Eph is a boring saint or anything; after all, he does make a wish for the girl he likes to like him back and when Nate asks him to wish for Shelley or Mary to fall in love with him, Eph balks and says it wouldn’t be fair to the girls. Hypocrite much? And yet, Eph is just a great character to root for and this book is addictive like… crack. Arrrgh, the whole time, I was like, “Zo-em-gee, HOW CAN THINGS GET WORSE THAN THEY ARE?” I’m warning you that if you pick it up, you’re gonna want to finish it right there and then, so I suggest you don’t pick it up at 9pm on a Sunday. I just really enjoyed the idea that for a wish to come true, something has to precipitate it; if something is supposed to happen and you interfere with it so that it doesn’t happen or it does happen but now there’s a new addition to the equation so the end game is essentially different, there has to be a consequence for it. It’s like Twilight Zone for kids. And speaking of Twilight Zone, E.C. Myers gives a great shout-out to it by having Jenna’s dad collect DVDs of old classic TV and she invites Eph for a Twilight Zone marathon. Damn. I love that shit. And I love this book.

Dear E.C. Meyers, write more. SRSLY, when is your next book coming out?!? Love, Bam.

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