Esther Friesner’s “Temping Fate” 

temping fate coverIt’s never any fun being different. Or is it? Ilana Newhouse feels out of place in her Conneticut hometown, and her attitude isn’t exactly winning over prospective summer employers. But things start to look up for her when she arrives at the Divine Relief Temp Agency. Finally, she finds someone who is willing to give her a shot, so she decides to accept the offer; anything’s better than the dull job her parents are sure to come up with if Ilana comes back empty-handed. But Ilana isn’t going to have a typical summer employment experience. Her temp assignment is for the Fates, three women who literally have life and death in the palm of their hands (or rather, on spindles in the back room).

Like Harry Potter, Ilana just doesn’t seem to fit in. But unlike Harry, Ilana doesn’t have any magical abilities to speak of. However, magic is within arm’s reach. Why should the other temps have all the fun? As with many other young adult tales, Ilana quickly finds that there are others like her temping for other deities or mythological beings, and carves out a place for herself in the temp agency. She also begins to find her place in her own family, instead of being in the shadow of her seemingly perfect older sister Dyllin.

Friesner creates an interesting world where gods and goddesses require outside help in order to get their jobs done. Instead of sounding goofy or just too cute, this idea works, and the story takes off at a surprisingly brisk pace. You can see some parts of the story coming at you from a mile away, but with this story it isn’t where the story is going that is important, it’s the ride getting there that matters. This isn’t a heavy-duty read, but is rather a pleasant diversion, perfect for a weekend at the beach — or a summer afternoon playing hooky from work.

The storyline about Ilana’s sister’s wedding is almost a distraction, and when the big reveal is finally shown, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. The hints dropped throughout the book paint a more sinister picture, and I would have liked to have seen a climax with a little more heft to it. But since this book is light reading for young adults, the story flows well.

The way Friesner brings mythological characters into the present day waters down the terrible power of some of these beings, but for the purposes of this book it’s a forgiveable transgression. I especially enjoyed the characterization of Arachne, which could be seen as a bit too cute and hip, but again, in this context it’s a good fit. The rapport between Ilana and Arachne is fun to read, as is the interplay among the temp employees. The conversations seem genuine and believable for characters in that age range, which is a welcome change from the miniature grownups in many other YA stories.

This book is for teenagers who aren’t afraid to be seen reading something that’s actually appropriate for their age range. As someone who saw the inside of a high school classroom a while ago, I found this story to be a sweet but funny tale of a girl who finds herself helping out the divine, and in the process discovers she’s not quite the outsider she believed herself to be.

This would be a great start to a series, and Friesner leaves the door open for that possibility. If so, I’d love to see some of the darker, more sinister mythological beings in the next offering. Tweens and teens could definitely deal with more substance. As it is, Temping Fate is a great summer read for young adults who need an enjoyable, lighthearted break from their summer reading lists.

(Dutton, 2006)


Denise Kitashima Dutton has been a reviewer since 2003, and hopes to get the hang of things any moment now. She believes that bluegrass is not hell in music form, and that beer is better when it’s a nitro pour. Besides GMR, you can find her at Atomic Fangirl,, or at that end seat at the bar, multi-tasking with her Kindle.