Review of Naomi Kritzer, “Field Biology of the Wee Fairies”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.
The scene is 1960’s America, the protagonist a 14 year old girl who is more interested in her science project than in hair, makeup, and boys. Her parents assure her that will all change when she catches a fairy and becomes pretty (as is the normal series of events in this version of the world), but Amelia is skeptical.
First of all, I have to admit how much I love alternate history and fantasy, so this story had an easy time winning me over. The sexism and societal pressure to conform fit with my understanding of the period (and honestly varies from my own, much later, adolescent experience by detail and degree), and adding in twee fairies who allow girls to blossom from awkwardness to beauty is such a perfect way to externalize the process of learning to perform femininity and beauty.
The character of Amelia could very easily have turned into a “not like other girls” trope, but thankfully, the story stops itself from going there. Yes, Amelia is not interested in being beautiful and getting boys to pay attention to her. She’d rather do science. But her neighbor, Betty, who caught her fairy at age nine and is said to be absolutely gorgeous, turns out to be a well-rounded, believable character who is both kind to Amelia and also actually interested in science. I appreciated that the story didn’t pit the two girls against each other, but let them subtly join forces, allowing for the option for a girl to care about her appearance and also her mind.
When Amelia does catch her fairy, it obviously does not go the way her parents or Betty expect it to. But Amelia manages to get what she wants out of the experience regardless. This was a fun story about sexism and adolescence, that I think will speak to people of any gender, wherever and whenever they grew up.