Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bad Magic

Bad Magic
Pseudonymous Bosch
Little Brown, 2014
Grades 4-7
The "Bad Books" Series

Clay adores his magician big brother, Max-Ernest, who has taught him the secrets of his trade. When Max-Ernest grows up and disappears, leaving Clay with dysfunctional and emotionally distant parents, he begins to resent his brother and turn his back on magic. A new English teacher exposes the class to Shakespeare's The Tempest, making the play come alive for the students, and encourages the class to keep a journal. One day while feeling resentment towards his brother, Clay writes "Magic Sucks" in his journal. Imagine his surprise when the phrase appears on the wall of the school exactly as he wrote it. This lands Clay in serious trouble and he is sent to a summer camp for delinquents on a deserted island. Upon arrival he is assigned a llama buddy and proceeds to make friends with the other misfits in his cabin. The island contains an active volcano and was previously the property of an eccentric millionaire. The millionaire was an avid book collector and built a library for his rare books on the island, which is still standing. Clay thinks he sees a mysterious girl in the window. Could it be the ghost of the millionaire's niece who also inhabited the island and died mysteriously? Clay must solve the mystery of the girl in the library and figure out the seemingly magical goings-on all around him on the island, all while dodging the camp bully and questioning his own sanity. The secrets behind the island are revealed by book's end, but lead the reader to new questions of which will be answered in the next installment in the series Bad Luck, due to be released in February 2016.

As he did with his "Secret" series, Bosch has created an unusual, well crafted yarn much in the vein of Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events series. Bosch's books are always deliciously weird and deceivably clever. Bad Magic will appeal to smart kids with big imaginations. The book is a mystery and appears to have fantastical elements. As we reach the end of the book, much of the mystery is solved (leaving threads to be picked up in the next installment) and the fantasy bits are explained. Even though plots threads are left open to lead readers further on in the series, enough is solved that the ending is satisfying and the results, if not easily get-able, make sense in an unexpected, yet gratifying way. This book moves quickly, has a well layered plot, and is chock full of interesting characters. Full page cartoon-like illustrations further contribute to the entertainment value of the novel. Still, this remains a quality read. Bosch does not compromise vocabulary. Further, The Tempest becomes essential to the plot, perhaps leading readers to the original play. The end of the novel contains directions for making a potato robot (much like the one constructed by one of Clay's cabin mates) as well as directions for performing a magic rope trick that Clay uses to dazzle his fellow campers. Smart kids will gobble this fun and meaty book up and cruise right over to the next installment in the series as soon as its released. 

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