1. I'm really tired, because I had to stay up all night reading the book. Then I had to stay up all through the next night reading the sequel. Darn you, E.C. Myers.
2. I can't tell you anything that happens. It's that kind of book.
3. I'm biased, because I had a great time interviewing E.C. Myers at the Nebula Awards and talking about the Sweet Valley High books, so now I think everything he writes is great. I swear to God, if he had said, “I remember all these little bits and pieces of Babysitters' Club, like that time when Stacy found out she had diabetes” (which is a thing he really said) and then handed me a phone book and claimed authorship, I'd be all, “This is scintillating prose!”
Keeping all that in mind, here's the bare minimum you need to know about the plot of Fair Coin:
Ephraim comes home from high school to find that his alcoholic mother attempted suicide because she had to identify his dead body earlier that day. Ephraim is not dead, so he finds this confusing. In case that intro stopped you in your tracks, the book is not actually depressing despite its grim opening and plenty of dark moments.
While Ephraim is at the hospital waiting for his mom to wake up, he realizes that she had been given the dead boy's belongings when she identified him. Amongst the items is an unusual coin. Ephraim makes a wish on the coin – and it comes true. He does it again – but with unpleasant side effects. The effects of wishing on the coin are unpredictable, but each leads to a situation that Ephraim wants to fix, and he has to wish on the coin to fix it.
Fair Coin and its successor, Quantum Coin, aren't Romance Novels by any stretch of the imagination, although they do have quite a bit of romance in them. Much of the story is fuelled by the main character Ephraim's longing for Jenna to fall in love with him and his confusion and horror when she does – or does she? While there may be enough romance to keep romance fans happy, it's really not the main attraction on first reading. On first reading, the main draw is the question, “What is going on, and how can Ephraim fix it?”
Even though the first reading is all about “what happens next”, there's a lot of complexity that I think would reward multiple readings. For instance, often the wishes change the personalities of people around Ephraim. But there are clues that suggest that everyone carries the seeds of violence, and kindness, within them, and that certain aspects of personality are carrying over between versions in expanded or diminished forms. One character starts off very funny and sympathetic, except that he's really into objectifying women. On first reading, I passed that off thinking, “Well, that's gross, but teen guys are pervs” but on further examination this streak of callousness makes a lot of other stuff make sense later in the book.
Another excellent character touch is that Ephraim is the only child of an alcoholic, and this makes his compulsion to fix things painfully realistic (someday I have a rant about a small comment at the end of the book – but today is not that day).
This is important, because Ephraim's need to fix things is a mark of compassion and responsibility, but perversely causes all kinds of problems, and he needs a plausible reason to be so obsessed with fixing stuff. At one point I seriously thought Ephraim was going to do something so stupid that I'd have to crawl into the book and slap him – and then he does something really smart, instead. He surrounds himself with smart people, and he's a smart person, so after a painful learning curve he definitely does save himself from being too stupid to live.
There's not a ton of contemplation in this book. People are much too busy running around and freaking out to get philosophical or angsty. But I did love this quote from Ephraim's mother about a book that Jenna gives him:
Ephraim, it's an incredibly intimate thing to share one of your favorite books with someone else. I think so, anyway…When you give someone a book, it's like you're saying: 'I'm trusting you with something that means a lot to me.' It doesn't matter whether you do like it or not, though it helps if you do. What matters is that you understand why she likes it. Why she gave it to you.
In short, there is some romance, but it's a little sketchy and it's all from Ephraim's point of view. What is really exciting is the ideas about character and identity, and the twists and turns of the plot. If you are looking for something fast-paced and innovative in concept, with a little bit of romance, this will be perfect for you. It ends as a nicely completed book, but that won't stop you from wanting to read the sequel, Quantum Coin. Just prepare for a sleepless night, that's all.