Editor’s Choice Review August 2017, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Froggy and Willie Chapter 3 by Sue Wachtman

Humor is hard to do. It needs balance, it needs timing. It has to know when to pull out the stops and when to give the reader a breathing space.

I give this writer huge props for aiming at classic kid humor and succeeding, at least for me. A good copyedit and a judicious amount of pruning and tightening will make the prose even better, but the big picture works.

How does it work? By walking the narrow line between over the top and just too much. That’s an art and a gift.

Willie is a hoot. She’s just awful, but she’s so unabashed about it, and so completely cold-hearted, that she’s almost lovable. She has a Plan, dammit, and she’s going to execute that Plan, and that is most emphatically That.

But there’s a hint of change coming. Froggy is her opposite in terms of verbal acuity, self-confidence, and overall moral fiber (or lack thereof). He’s already smoothing her rough edges and making her see herself more clearly, but he does it in a way that doesn’t make me feel as if I’m being preached to. There’s an organic feel to their interactions, and a sense of timing—both comic and  emotional—that makes it work. The way they play off each other is deft and quick; it lingers just long enough to get the point across, and moves just fast enough to keep from bogging down.

If I were to quibble, I’d wonder if Froggy could repeat himself a bit less, and if the conversations between them could be tightened up. He repeats himself, that’s his thing, but just a little less of it would help keep things moving along.

What strikes and charms me overall is the sense of kid logic that runs through the story. Willie’s amorality and utter selfishness is pure kid, but so is her slow awakening to the existence of others in the world—and her very gradual realization that they just might have feelings, too.

I love the way she turns the fairytale trope of the beautiful princess on its head. She’s clearly got the face, but not the voice, and that’s something she’s alerted to in this chapter. She’s also quite willing to make herself ugly if it serves her purpose (and I wonder, though this may be made clear in the previous chapters, whether Granny abets her plan in order to foster the kind of self-awakening that’s happening here). Beauty is a tool for her, but she’s not invested in it. It’s not absolutely essential to her identity. At bottom, with all her considerable flaws, she’s Willie first and foremost. With or without blackberry teeth.

And that’s pure kid, too: eeuuww gross and therefore funny. She breathes licorice at you, she gives you hives. She’s toxic but she embraces it. It’s almost too much, but it stops just short.

And may I salute the pro-frog messaging in a genre that so often defaults to prejudice against frogs (and toads and snakes and spiders). Froggy is very pretty frog, and Willie makes sure to mention it more than once. Again it doesn’t strike me as preaching; it fits the characters and the situation. But it counteracts the propaganda that we’re fed in kidlit and in our culture in general.

One note on genre labeling: It doesn’t feel YA to me, but middle-grade or even chapter book. The clarity of it, the broad strokes of characterization and action, and the overall voice and tone, give me a younger vibe.

I like this a lot, and wish it well as it makes its way out into the world.

–Judith Tarr

Leave a Reply