TPG reviews: Fat Girl Fairy Boy, by Carol McConkie
(Book received for free in exchange for an honest review)
Well-written, but exceedingly strange – and not always in a good way
Frieda Kunkelheimer knew she wasn’t welcome in the world from her earliest stirrings. She also knew she was big and ugly, as proclaimed by her grandmother on the day of her birth. Though Frieda Kunkelheimer later blossoms into a beautiful and successful Hollywood film star, it had been determined, even before birth, that she was unwanted and unloved.
En route to a film shoot, the embittered, aging actress known as Frie, and Robin, her fearful, phobic gay makeup artist, survive a plane crash in the jungles of Central America only to be held hostage by El Salvadoran guerrillas. Their self-absorbed lives take a backseat to the events of their capture as a bizarre set of circumstances unfold and kindle courage, compassion, and forgiveness they never thought possible.
My rating: 2/5
Let me just say something right off the bat: the blurb you see above mostly describes the second half of this novel. The first half is mostly setup for the blurb’s events, detailing the lives of Frie and Robin from their childhood days to their privileged adult selves. Frie, the Fat Girl of the title, goes from a shy and reclusive girl to a primadonna Hollywood actress. Robin, the Fairy Boy, goes from an effeminate and timid young boy to…well, an effeminate, timid and phobic young man with a talent for makeup artistry. It is only after more than a hundred pages of this that the plot properly kicks off, which was really not what I was expecting. Granted, this is the fault of the blurb rather than the book itself, but still.
The book’s first half is a meandering affair, but is also a very interesting one. Frie and Robin are very unique and interesting characters, and the book charts their growth beautifully. Both of them, in their own way, are badly damaged by their childhoods: Robin is sheltered and left ill-equipped to handle the real world, whereas Frie is both neglected and abused by her carers and so develops into an aloof and detached adult. This made for a read that was fascinating and depressing in equal measure. Though there were times in which the pacing dragged a little, this was easily the better half of the novel.
The second half is the supposed meat of the story, where the pair are taken captive in El Salvador and forced to harden in response to their surroundings. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this part of the novel nearly as much as I did the previous section. The book develops a serious habit of infodumping on new characters’ backstories, and there were several happenings that I found difficult to believe. The resolution, meanwhile, relied on multiple deus ex machinas and consequently left a really bad taste in my mouth. There were some moments I adored – in particular, the pair using their Hollywood experience in new and creative ways – but these weren’t enough on their own.
The quality of writing, by the way, is excellent throughout the novel (infodumps notwithstanding). The description is rich and vivid and there were several points where I could really feel what the characters were feeling. This made the first half even better, but sadly does little for the second. Unbelievable events are still unbelievable when presented well, after all.
Fat Girl Fairy Boy was a strange experience, and one that I’m not really sure what to make of. The overall impression I got was one of a writer who really, really didn’t know what sort of book they wanted to write. The two halves of the book are very different and, for me at least, didn’t fit together especially well. I genuinely wanted to see what became of Frie and Robin, but there were a couple of points where that alone was what kept me reading. Make of that what you will.