The Magician’s Doll
Twelve-year-old Natalie has always known she was different, but only wanted to be like everyone else. She has never known her father, and although she and her mother are close, her mother is just plain weird. Until a couple years ago, she had a good friend in Phillip, but when his father disappeared, he grew angry and distant and she has felt more and more lonely ever since – especially as she keeps having strange spells where she senses something, hears something, coming from beyond and outside what she should be able to know. She hates it. But one day, when her mother puts up her sign to tell fortunes, Natalie is once again thrown together with Phillip and begins to realize that he has some unusual abilities too – abilities that are even more powerful when they are together. While they are trying to understand what this might mean, a circus comes to their small sleepy town. There the two meet a magician and his very unusual doll, or perhaps it is his daughter, Louisa. Suddenly, very strange things start to happen, people disappear, and Natalie starts to uncover secrets that have been hidden for years. Natalie can no longer ignore her powers – either she must accept them and learn to control them, or lose everything and everyone she knows and loves.
The story of exceptional and gifted beings secretly living among us is timeless; this exhilarating book is an impressive treatment of that classic storyline. The writing is fast and clear, with a well-developed plot and perfect buildup of action and suspense. Interim breathers allow character development and some time for relationships to build, between Natalie and her mother, Natalie and Phillip, and Natalie and her new friend Louisa. Violence is applied with a judicious and conscientious touch; tween readers will understand Natalie’s pain for her friends without being overwhelmed. They will sympathize with Natalie’s dilemmas and cheer her successes. Our heroine is likeable and human, even when her abnormally strong powers are revealed; her ambivalence about them never devolves to whining or self-pity, even though she faces not only extraordinary evil but also the everyday bullying common to seventh-grade misfits. The backstory for the world is carefully crafted and believable. Natalie’s ultimate encounter with her family’s archenemy was an eminently satisfying conclusion that wrapped up this section of the story while leaving several avenues to explore in future books in what I assume (and hope) will be a series. Natalie still has room to grow, both in power and emotion; her relationship with Phillip can deepen; there are still secrets and mysteries to be revealed. An outstanding pleasure that tops the ranks of tween fantasy.
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