E.C. Myers’ FAIR COIN is a suspenseful book set on present-day Earth that contains elements of fantasy and science fiction. In FAIR COIN, we meet Ephraim Scott, a normal sixteen-year-old-boy who’s worried about girls, school, and his alcoholic mother; however, his life changes the day someone who looks exactly like him dies. His mother gets called down to identify the body; horrified that her only son appears to be dead, she ends up drinking herself into an alcoholic stupor. When she ends up in ICU, Ephraim investigates what happened and searches “his” belongings; only then does he find an unusual coin, a commemorative quarter that has Puerto Rico on it and a date of 2008, which clearly isn’t right as Puerto Rico is only a Commonwealth, not a state.
Then, when Ephraim goes to school, he finds a note that tells him that all he has to do is flip the odd coin to make all his dreams come true; it appears to be in his best friend Nathan’s handwriting. Figuring he has nothing to lose, Ephraim first wishes for his mother to get better and ends up, somehow, in a parallel universe where his mother never identified a body that looked exactly like his — in this universe, Ephraim’s mother, while still an alcoholic, isn’t in the hospital at all.
Confused, Ephraim flips the coin again and asks for two things: for his mother to be well (no longer an alcoholic) and for Jena, the girl he’s been interested in since the second grade, to like him. This actually happens, and Ephraim grows even more confused; when other strange things happen, like a set of identical twins becoming only one person instead of two, and when his best friend Nathan no longer knows him, Ephraim knows something is deeply wrong.
Fortunately for Ephraim, his love-interest, Jena, is a budding young physicist and recognizes the “parallel worlds” theory from her studies. She does her best to explain things to Ephraim, but then the unthinkable happens — a version of Nathan shows up who’s violent and irredeemable. Nathan causes problems for Ephraim, for Jena, and for Jena’s analogue, Zoe, because of one thing: Nathan wants the coin, and he will kill in order to get it.
So, will Ephraim figure out what’s going on before it’s too late? Or will Nathan gain the coin, and its unusual powers, for himself?
FAIR COIN is a nice action-adventure story with parallel worlds and some romance. It relies on the plot carrying the characters rather than the reverse, but isn’t necessarily bad; the plot demands that Ephraim be a teenage “Everyman,” and it’s plausible that bookworm Jena would understand enough about parallel worlds and string theory to explain it to lovesick Ephraim.
The problem I had with FAIR COIN was this: Ephraim, rather than having the idiosyncracies that would’ve made him more lifelike, was instead an archetype — “teenage Everyman.” While this is OK, it would’ve been better if Ephraim had more internal monologue and some reactions other than, “Wow! How’d that happen?” or “Why is Nathan behaving so badly, anyway? What’s up with that?” as it would’ve deepened his character and made him seem far more believable. (And speaking of Nathan, he also is an archetype from beginning to end no matter what universe he’s in, which really didn’t help anything, either.)
In addition, I never really understood why Ephraim’s mother felt so terrible about life that she’d ended up as an alcoholic. And considering that the whole plot depends on us believing Ephraim’s mother is in bad shape, this is a bit strange. Once again, the only reason Myers gets away with this is because Ephraim’s mother is an archetype, so the reader immediately categorizes her and then doesn’t worry any more about it.
Bottom line: there was no reason to use so many archetypes. One per book is usually all most readers are likely to tolerate; here, we have three. Worse yet, Ephraim, his mother, and Nathan may as well have been cardboard characters, as for the most part they lacked personality. More to the point, they lacked soul, which is why I did not believe in any of them.
Fortunately for Myers, he has two very strong characters in Jena and Zoe to help pick up the slack; they have real motivations and idiosyncracies, and I believed they could be real people existing somewhere (or somewhen). Without them, I’d not have wanted to finish this novel.
That being said, the action-adventure works. The romance, for the most part, worked, though I kept thinking Jena deserved better. The plot was fast-paced and well-written, which I appreciated, and helped distract me from how much I hated the use of all those archetypes.
FAIR COIN is a good novel for young adults, but falls short of the exceptional read I’d hoped for, mostly because Myers needs to stop using so many archetypes. While he tells a nice story, he must learn to draw up characters with a bit more weight and heft to them, as plot will only carry you so far.
– reviewed by Barb