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It's the middle of January, and my district still hasn't had any snow days. We haven't even gotten a late start yet! I realize there's still a good two months left during which one can reasonably hope for a blizzard to roll through, but this winter is off pace so far. It's not that I don't like going to work, but... well, come on, you all remember how awesome snow days were when you were a kid, right? Well, they're still awesome when you're an adult.
Oh well; these things tend to average out in the end, right? In any case, head down below the break to see my review of Rated Ponystar's Why Am I Crying?
Impressions before reading: I'm pretty sure this is the first story by Rated Ponystar that I've read, despite him/her being a very popular, prolific author (as of this review, 54 stories and just shy of 2500 followers). As such, I'm especially interested to dive into this. With that said, "the CMC come to terms with their bully suddenly dying" is the sort of premise that has the potential to be handled really, really badly; we shall see.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Diamond Tiara unexpectedly dies, each of the CMC girls react differently. Apple Bloom is filled with guilt, seeing her ill wishes toward the filly suddenly metastasize in the most horrible way imaginable; Sweetie Belle learns what death is, and is terrified when she realizes that one day, she too will pass; and Scootaloo doesn't see why her friends are suddenly acting like Diamond wasn't the biggest jerk they ever had the misfortune to meet.
Thoughts after reading: Going back through my notes, I found that I highlighted passage after passage with comments like "melodramatic," "frankly silly," and the like. This story peddles heavily in emotional examination by way of dialogue, and this leads to a lot of awkward, self-aware statements. Couple that with a noticable tendency for character vocabulary to fall by the wayside whenever the discussion turns "heavy," and you end up with Scootaloo saying things like, "Look, you girls wanna go [to the funeral], fine by me! But I'm not going to just drop everything and forget that Diamond Tiara made out lives miserable for her own amusement! I'm not going to forget how much embarrassment we had to endure under her bullying, nor am I going to forget all the times I got in trouble because of her!" This kind of unnatural, expository dialogue is a constant throughout the story.
Neither is it helped by the frankly juvenile worldview prevalent throughout the fic. I'm not talking about Scoots, Sweetie, or AB when I say this; them having limited or youth-informed understandings of life (and death) would obviously be in-character. I'm talking about the authorial view that seeps through in both the conclusions the story draws, and in the advice and guidance those three are given. This is a story which regularly conflates bullying with things like first-degree battery and sexual abuse, projects middle-school worldviews onto adult life, and is perfectly willing to using frankly ridiculous plot devices (Sweetie Belle literally not knowing what death is, Apple Bloom abruptly recovering repressed-by-no-obvious-cause memories from her youth, etc.) whenever it's more convenient than using more nuanced or believable events or characterization.
From those first two paragraphs, some of you who read my reviews regularly might be suspecting that I hated this story. After all, I don't have a high tolerance for stories that handle serious issues disrespectfully. And yet... despite its inorganic dialogue and fumbling approach to events, I didn't. The reason is that, for all that this story fails in many places to feel like a genuine depiction of dealing with death, it nonetheless feels like a sincere attempt on behalf of the author. Sometimes, it manages to be both, as with the portrayal of a cancer-stricken foal later in the story, but even on the more common occasions where a character's belief's or emotions are portrayed in a difficult to believe way--to pick a single example, take Rarity's responding to Sweetie asking what she thinks happens after one dies with, "Well, to be honest, I never thought about such a thing before"--those portrayals are nevertheless treated seriously. To my (very pleasant) surprise, this is a story that consistently avoided cliche and trite banalities, not only in its approach to death, but in general. This story may not feel "real" in terms of how its characters think and act, but it does feel like a "real" treatment of those characters, if the distinction is clear.
Based on the first chapter, which had a few very noticeable editing errors, I was worried on the technical front early on. However, I found that subsequent chapters were much stronger, construction-wise; the multiple editors who are credited on this story clearly had a positive effect in this regard. Such issues as I had with the writing were mostly related to voicing and excessive exposition, in addition to a few singular issues (e.g. an excerpt from DT's diary circa age four is full of cutesy misspellings of the sort that actual children don't ever make (I've never seen anyone write friends as "fwiends," lisp or no, and I've seen a lot of beginning writers)).
I do want to mention the final chapter, as I felt it was a letdown. After a significant timeskip, it picks up with the CMC all around high-school age... and precedes to resolve, in the telliest way possible, every single outstanding character issue. I don't mind a timeskip epilogue, but when it so aggressively focuses on addressing even the tiniest story details, it makes the author's story feel small and insular, rather than like part of a larger world--in a word, it feels artificial. Still, despite all this, I'm pointedly not breaking out the "manipulative" label which I so often feel the need to slap on stories of this general type. This story may try hard to create a somber or dramatic mood at turns, but even if the overall approach might seem to merit the use of the m-word, the specific treatment is surprisingly thoughtful.
★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
That said, a thoughtful treatment of something that's frequently unrealistic or downright baffling is difficult to recommend very strongly. The best I can say about this story is that, even though there were many times when I thought I was about to feel offended by it, that fear never materialized. That's a good thing, make no mistake... but in the context of "is this one of the best fanfics out there?," the answer is clear.
Recommendation: Although this doesn't have the vocabulary of a story geared at younger readers, I think its general worldview and its heavily expository approach to grief and coping aims it at a pre- and perhaps early-teen age group (the latter I think is self-explanatory; for an example of the "general worldview" I'm talking about... well, I realize middle school is a rough time for a lot of people, but the hushed tones and abject horror with which it's viewed in this story is likely to speak to an audience which isn't yet too far removed from that point in their lives). Those with a reading level above their years might well find that this story is a thoughtful and emotional one, but I suspect most older readers will find that the exegetical approach to unrealistic events isn't for them.
Next time: Voyage’s End, by The DM