Why yes, yes I do.
Based on the title, I expected something rather light and possibly silly. What I got was something more substantial, an old middle-grade book/YA book that suddenly had me recalling A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Somehow I missed this one when I was younger, which is too bad. An enthusiastic review from a friend (thanks, Allie!) alerted me to this deficiency and I decided to rectify it.
“She strolled between shelves, looking at titles, smiling as she met old friends–books she had read three times or five times or a dozen. Just a title, or an author’s name, would be enough to summon up happy images. Strange creatures like phoenixes and psammeads, moving under smoking London daylight of a hundred years before… starships and new worlds and the limitless vistas of interstellar night…”
Nita, short for Juanita, is regularly bullied and abused by neighborhood kids, finding herself almost helpless to prevent it. As she is running away, she darts into the library for safety and finds herself walking through the children’s section, greeting books like old friends. One jumps out at her: So You Want to Be a Wizard? and she finds herself intrigued by what she reads. Perhaps it can help keep her safe from bullying? The wizard’s book is divided into sections, and the read book follows those guidelines. ‘Prologue,’ ‘Preliminary Exercises,’ Research and Development,’ etc. In short order, she meets another bullied kid, Kat, and starts working with him to retrieve a pen stolen from Nita in her latest attack. Events quickly escalate.
There’s a lot to like here; a male and female lead that aren’t involved in a romantic relationship, Kat’s Latino heritage, parents that are supportive but mildly inept, astrophysics, mild fart humor, and kids saving the world. I thought the meta-themes of responsibility, compassion and choices well done. Added bonus for talking to trees and a (view spoiler). I loved the affection for libraries and books so evident in the first chapter. I thought the dialogue had an organic feel.
What isn’t to like is that Duane seems to still have some period sexism going on, generally possibly explained by the fact that Kat discovers his book sooner, except that it still felt… off. There’s also a lot of extraneous writing where a paragraph literally takes up a page and a half, particularly at the end battle. Plot development is a bit disjointed; I think even as a youth, it would have seemed odd to me to draw my sand in the line over an astronaut pen, but maybe not. The skill level of the two young wizards grows exponentially; they literally prepare for the big adventure by reading thirty chapters in one night. Because a lot of times Nita and Kat use Wizard Speech, the dialogue markers are in parenthesis, which may be confusing to less sophisticated readers.
On the balance, however, good completely outweighs the bad. I bet I would have loved it when I was younger, and I can absolutely see giving the sequel a try.
Three and a half stars, rounding up at the request of Young carol.
See also mark monday’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…