I just finished reading "Changeling," the new young adult fantasy by Delia Sherman, and it reminded me of just how much I love "contemporary fantasy" stories that bring fairy-tales forward into the present day. Changeling's eponymous heroine is Neef, a human girl who is being raised in New York's Central Park by fairy folk. But this isn't Central Park as we know it — this is the Central Park of New York Between, an over-the-rainbow parallel to New York, where the fairy folk of the world have converged, where German gnomes rub shoulders with Russian Kazni peris, Japanese Tenukis and Closet Monsters out of New York's own mythology. Also populating this world are fictional characters, like Water Rat from Wind in the Willows — any character beloved and archetypal enough to become part of our folklore.
Changeling is a fairy tale, hewing to the ancient conventions of the fairy story even as it conducts an erudite, engrossing lesson on the world's mythologies and narrative conventions. The likable, mischievous Neef is disobedient, and ends up in the hottest of water, which she escapes through her cleverness and her exhaustive knowledge of folklore (Delia Sherman is herself an accomplished folklorist).
There's so much to love about this book — Sherman's incorporation of the contemporary with the timeless is both seamless and endlessly amusing (Neef draws on her knowledge of such stories as "Little Red Baseball Cap" and "The Twelve Dancing Debutantes" and "Jack and the Extension Ladder"). You have to see the fairy version of the Metropolitan Museum for yourself — and the Dragon of Wall Street!
Part of the power of fairy tales is their ability to transform our own world into a place of everyday magic. Some of that power is lost when we tell the stories of our middle-ages forebears, set in the world they inhabited. If the kids in your life are hooked on fairy tales but sticking to Bros Grimm and co, they're missing something — the galvanizing wonder of the familiar transmuted into the fantastic.
Changeling is the book to fix all that. From Sherman's magnificent handling of Asperger's Syndrome in fairy-land to the clever puzzles and challenges that Neef overcomes, this story is fast-paced, and weird in an intensely recognizable way.