The Story: [From GoodReads:]
Rowena Duncan is a thoroughly modern girl with big plans for her summer—until she catches her boyfriend making out with another girl. Heartbroken, she applies to an out-of-town job posting and finds herself somewhere she never expected: the Renaissance Faire. As a face-painter doubling as a serving wench, Ro is thrown headfirst into a vibrant community of artists and performers. She feels like a fish out of water until Will, a quick-witted whip cracker, takes her under his wing. Then there’s Christian, a blue-eyed stunt jouster who makes Ro weak in the knees. Soon, it’s not just her gown that’s tripping her up. Trading in the internet and electricity for stars and campfires was supposed to make life simpler, but Ro is finding that love is the ultimate complication. Can she let the past make way for her future?
My Take: This was a classic case of being drawn in by a cover but being left less than thrilled about the contents within. I mean, this cover is so cute and just shouts summer fun. And while the story can at times be cute and is definitely a summery read, it falls squarely into the YA vein thanks to its juvenile tone and characters.
I will say that the idea of setting the story in a Renaissance Fair was a cool idea. Though I am proudly “White & Nerdy,” I confess that one nerdy activity I’ve never done is go to a Renaissance Fair (but perhaps I can put that on my nerdy bucket list). The story’s setting in this regard really comes alive and, though I can’t attest to how accurate it is, it seems right to me and it was a lot of fun. Populating this world are some equally fun characters, both the principle cast and some of the secondary players. But for me, the best and most enjoyable aspect of this novel was its setting as it smartly combines the atmosphere of a circus, the colorful energy of a summer festival, and the wilderness flavor of a campsite – all decked out in Medieval style.
The lead character is Rowena (Ro for short) Duncan, who, for me, just wasn’t that enjoyable. I suppose this goes back to my age but her juvenile behavior and banter grated on my nerves at times, though I wouldn’t say she was a stupid character. She’s just a teen who acts like a teen, thinks like a teen, and makes immature decisions like a teen. But to her credit, she is ambitious and, while hesitant about leaving all vestiges of modern life behind (as no technology or contemporary clothes are allowed inside the fair), she meets these new challenges head on and seems determined to learn something positive from them. That being said, I would have loved to have seen more interactions with her and the fair-goers in her face-painting tent or even as she doubles as a serving wench. As it is, despite the fact her role as a face-painter is her summer job, and the novel’s blurb implies it’s going to focus on that, it doesn’t get much attention. I love seeing artists – writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, etc. – depicted in fiction, so my hope was that Ro’s artistic endeavors and abilities would be further explored. But instead, the novel decides to turn its attention to the typical trope-filled “love” triangle, which constitutes as the plot’s backbone.
What encourages Ro to even seek a summer job miles from civilization in the first place is that she catches her boyfriend cheating on her with another (younger) girl. Honestly, I thought these drama-filled “poor-me” moments were eye-roll inducing, and sadly this is the inciting action of the plot. This is a bit of a shame because it causes the novel’s focus to veer directly into teen tropes, something that could have been avoided if it had devised a different reason for Ro’s change of summer jobs, even something as simple as she wanted a change of pace to her life. But no, her reason is to escape the mall where she normally works because she doesn’t want to run into her ex and his new squeeze. Maybe teen readers can better relate to this dilemma, but for me I thought it was annoyingly immature because, essentially, Ro wants to start some drama by switching jobs just to avoid drama yet more drama ensues.
In the same way, the rest of the novel dives into “love” triangle territory as it eventually pairs Ro up with two young men who also work at the fair, Will, a whip cracker, and Christian, a jouster. Immediately, I could tell the types of tropes Will and Christian were meant to fulfill the moment we’re introduced to them: one is the kind, helpful, boy-next-door and the other is the hot “bad” boy. (I say “bad” in quotes because nothing this character does could be constrained as awful or morally unforgiving – he just eventually reveals himself to be a jerk.) For the sake of not revealing spoilers, I won’t say which boy is which, but this reliance on tropes does take away from any sense of strong character development. I pretty much predicted how both of these boys would respond to events and who Ro would choose, and in the end I was right with no surprises.
Granted, Ro does learn how to stand up for herself and gain a better appreciation for life after unplugging herself from technology and modern conveniences. However, that’s as deep as this novel gets in terms of any kind of a theme or message. My Faire Lady is akin to a summer popcorn flick in that it offers a very light story, serves up some fun moments and characters, and is as fluffy as cotton candy without much left to think about after it’s over. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but it’s worth noting that in this novel it’s all delivered with a heavy dose of teenage antics and juvenile banter and behavior. While teen characters shouldn’t be expected to act like adults, I appreciate teen characters who aren’t quite so on-the-nose juvenile and prone to drama at the drop of a hat. For that reason, I couldn’t fully immerse myself in this story and I sense it’s appeal won’t reach beyond the teenage demographic.
Language – There is some profanity but it isn’t pervasive and stays confined to the PG/light-PG-13 arena.
Violence – None. This is a Renaissance Fair, so there are demonstrations of jousting and other such activities but nothing ever becomes violent. Also, teen characters sometimes display bad attitudes and juvenile antics ensue but no one ever gets hurt.
Sexual Content – While there are no sex scenes, there is obvious chemistry between Ro and the two male leads. At times, Ro places herself in tempting situations though nothing actually leads to sex, at least not openly. However, one such scene has Ro and a boy falling asleep and waking up together; and while the story doesn’t seem to imply anything more occurred, this was a compromising situation. In another scene, Ro returns from a shower area wearing just a towel and runs into some boys who, while not openly crude, do make some snarky suggestive comments in jest. Lastly, Ro pines for and whines about her ex-boyfriend for quite some time, even to the point of spending days on a couch in a depressed state and wanting to exact revenge upon him later on. These moments contributed to the juvenile tone of the novel and might annoy adult readers who can see past the immaturity for what it is.
Drug/Alcohol Content – This book does depict underage drinking without consequence. It’s no secret that Medieval spirits flow freely at the fair. However, Ro does more than just serve fair-goers alcohol with their turkey legs – she consumes some of it herself when the fair’s denizens gather around an evening campfire for some downtime merriment. Ro is clearly a teenager and not 21 years of age; therefore, these scenes qualify as underage drinking and lead to some of the above-mentioned compromising moments. Granted, Ro’s experience with alcohol isn’t positive as the aftereffects are less than pleasant, but she never decides that she shouldn’t be partaking in it. The fact Ro drinks is depicted as a norm for fair workers and no one seems to take issue with the fact that she’s under 21 and that it’s the adult characters who provide Ro with the alcohol in the first place. Legal ramifications aside, the plot assumes a “what happens at the fair stays at the fair” mentality, which didn’t sit well with me. (Yes, I know teenagers drink but just because they do doesn’t make it justifiable or okay.)
Overall, My Faire Lady is a fluffy summer read that, to its credit, has a fun atmosphere and setting. However, I sense this will appeal strictly to teens due to its writing style and characters who are simply too juvenile for an adult audience to tolerate for very long. That being said, there are several moments of teenage drinking and, while not a major plot focus, this does cast a questionable cloud over an otherwise relatively tame tale. In the end, this novel is perfectly summed up in its cover – young, fun, summery, and colorful – but perhaps a bit too young for everyone. (Plus, I’m guessing that’s probably not a cold soda she’s sipping in her cup!)