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My Little Brony: An Unofficial Novel about Finding the Magic of Friendship · 4:40pm May 27th, 2015

Since joining this fandom, I have had the opportunity to experience many unexpected pleasures, from meeting people like Lauren Faust and John de Lancie to being invited to run a fanfic panel at a convention to, frankly, being friends with all of you. When I started watching Friendship is Magic four(!) years ago, I never anticipated participating in this fandom to the extent that I have, or the unusual experiences it would bring me.

The latest unexpected pleasure of my brony career is, well, this post. Recently, a representative of Skyhorse Publishing – which is exactly what I’d name a ponyfic publishing house if I wanted it to fly a little under the radar, but it’s actually been around for almost ten years and operates a dozen different imprints – contacted me to ask if they could send me an advance copy of a new novel for me to review. Once I peeled myself off the ceiling and convinced myself this wasn’t an extremely strange, oddly specific hallucination, I replied that if they really wanted little old me to do this, I was game. They were, startlingly, serious, and a little while later I had my very own copy sitting in my mailbox.

Drew Morris doesn’t just feel like an outsider in his football-crazed Texas town—he actually is. He sucks at sports, even though his dad is the high school football coach. Babysitting his younger sister one night, Drew is forced to watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Much to his surprise, he finds himself actually liking the show. He knows if anyone finds out, he’ll become a target for school bullies. Subtly dealing with topics like bullying and standing up for outsiders, My Little Brony promotes friendship, self-acceptance, and courage.

Hit the break for my thoughts. Spoiler alert: It was surprisingly good, such that I didn’t want to put it down, and I think you’d probably enjoy it too.

There are a few caveats, of course. By no means is this great literature; it’s a young adult novel written at about a fifth-grade reading level (based on an automated analysis of the first chapter) that I got through in less than three hours.

But it was fun, and despite my being twice the age of the first-person protagonist, it was relatable, and that made for a damn good read.

Protagonist Drew and high-school-era me share quite a few life experiences – maybe you do too. Unlike Drew, I managed to avoid getting physically beaten up at school, but we both hate sports, we both feel like we’ve never lived up to our parents’ expectations, we both carefully select a middle-row-to-the-side classroom seat in an effort to not stand out, and we’re both more comfortable around girls than boys.

"I didn’t look up because eye contact was dangerous. That was when people started conversations."

I recently read another novel with a first-person highschooler protagonist, Steven Gould’s Impulse (third in the excellent Jumper series). Gould was aiming for a more mature audience with his work, but there are a lot of pleasant commonalities here when it comes to the daily intrigue and drama inherent to any high-school–based story: the ins and outs of the various groups, the uncomfortable existence of those out on the fringes that don’t really “fit in” anywhere.

At the beginning of the story, Drew is already aware of the existence of FiM, but doesn’t want anything to do with it, associating it with his annoying little sister. He knows enough to recognize that a classmate is a fan of the show, recognizing elements of the ponies in how she dresses, and is caught between hating the other students for ridiculing and bullying her, and not wanting to draw their ire to himself. And then, in a convenient twist of fate, Drew gets stuck babysitting his little sister while she watches season three’s “Babs Seed”:

Why was the show being so . . . so real? I hadn’t expected to identify with any part of this cutesy, girly thing, and yet here I was, hoping this episode would give me an answer to my own problem.

And just like that, he’s hooked – against his will, as so many of us were. And this, for me, is the real charm of My Little Brony: I got to relive the heady days of first discovering the show, of my almost bewildered excitement when I realized that this silly cartoon about magical talking horses was special to me. Drew finds himself inspired to start sketching the ponies, and then can’t suppress the urge to share them, so he creates an anonymous Tumblr for his drawings – mirroring my own experience with ponyfic. Through his brony classmate Skye, he’s introduced to the full online fandom of bronies and pegasisters and tags along to a brony meet-up at a local college.

Of course, this blissful new world can’t last long. His secret gets out, and his whole school discovers that he’s a freak, a boy who likes a show for girls, and I sweated out that long day with him, terrified of what would happen to him when his straightlaced, gruff, macho-man football-coach father found out. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well.)

In the end, I only have two real criticisms of the book. The first, and perhaps broadest, is that there were a lot of loose ends that didn’t get tied up by the time I hit the final page. I want to know more about Jake, the erstwhile footballer who secretly regrets his decision to try to fit in. I want to know more about Emma, the daughter of overprotective religious parents who has to sneak fantasy novels from the school library. I want to know how things shake down with Drew’s father and mother, who never (appear to) reach an understanding about their son’s newfound passion, or with the principal of the high school, who discovers how prevalent vicious and occasionally outright violent the bullying is amongst her students. I guess basically… I want a sequel. (You reading this, K. M. Hayes?)

The other criticism (and my sincerest apologies for this to designer Gretchen Schuler and illustrator Amanda Brack) is about the cover:

It just… doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t draw me in and make me want to pick up this book and read it, which a book cover should do. I feel sure that there is a better cover out there. (Might have been cool if they’d gotten a brony artist!) On the other hand, as with the show, I’m not the target demo: the cover feels juvenile, but maybe that’s the goal; maybe it tested well with younger readers. (I really don’t know much about what goes into selecting cover art in the publishing world.)

Stepping back to take a larger view, based on the novel’s stated purpose (according to marketing materials) of “promote[ing] the idea of boys (and girls) as a rich, diverse group of individuals with complex inner lives, joys and fears, triumphs and defeats, and hearts capable of great empathy”: I think the book does a great job handling these topics for their target readers… but I do wonder if it hasn’t written itself into a corner by depending so deeply on the protagonist being a brony. Certainly, I think it could be a lot of help for kids like Grayson Bruce or Michael Morones, but if a kid is being bullied for some other reason, I wonder how eager they’d be to read a book about bronies. I suspect that, like Drew, they’d be uneasy giving their bullies any additional ammo, like showing an interest in My Little Pony. However, if they saw past that, I think it could be a balm to them too.

But again, that’s not going to be the draw for anyone reading this, necessarily. I do think that any brony who’s felt the urge to create music, art, or fiction as a result of the show, or who’s had to deal with gender-role bullshit from people who don’t think they should be watching a show for little girls, will enjoy it. (You can pick it up at Amazon, looks like; not sure if physical booksellers will carry it.)

Also, if anyone knows who K. M. Hayes is (sounds like a pseudonym to me), point them my way! I’d love to chat.

Report RBDash47 · 1,209 views ·
Comments ( 12 )

Huh. Reminds me of the Brony musical I never ended up getting a chance to see .

Site Blogger

There's a brony musical?

I've still never actually watched the documentaries, ha.

When you think about it, it would be more surprising if nobody tried writing a book like this. A lot of juvenile and adult novels use subject matter ripped from the headlines, and by this point, the coverage is a bit difficult to ignore.

I think this is a sign that the pony fandom is turning into just another part of the cultural landscape. This, and the famous people dropping references lately.

Site Blogger

That's a good point. I'm definitely happy someone tried, and that a publisher went for it.

Always cool to see the fandom spawning more realfic. :twilightsmile:

A quick google search suggests this is Hayes' first novel, and they have several social-media entry points (Twitter, Facebook) under that name. I also found out that way that they're doing a Q&A next week over on mlpforums.com, which is cool.

Site Blogger

Interesting! Further digging reveals that K. M. Hayes is indeed a pseudonym for one Natalie Whipple. I might have to get in on that Q&A.

Author Interviewer

What impresses me most is that you have somehow become the go-to guy for external brony contact! :O You're a face of the fandom! Good on ya. :D

Site Blogger

I think it's absolutely bizarre, but I'm pretty okay with it.

Author Interviewer

Me too, I think you're a good choice for the position! :D

I will say, the cover is rather unsettling.

Site Blogger
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