Happy Monday, guys!
I've missed all of you MMGM folks - I've been recovering from a funky illness, so haven't devoted as much time to the blog recently. However, that changes now!
This week, I'm reviewing A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou. It's a great tale of two girls who are brought together by a magical book, who end up learning plenty about themselves and their respective heritage, in the process!
MMGM is a feature hosted by the fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by HarperCollins
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Kai and Leila may be on opposite sides of the world when they discover The Exquisite Corpse, but Papapdemetriou has crafted a journey for both girls that will spark the imagination and connect both of them together forever.
Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila's copy on the other side of the planet. Kai's words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.
A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.
Papademetriou introduces us to Kai and Leila, who are setting off on their own personal adventures for the summer. For Kai, adventure comes in the form of a visit to her crazy great-aunt in Texas, as her mom tries to find a new job. For Leila, adventure means traveling to Lahore, Pakistan, where she connects with family and tries to reconcile with the idea that she will always compete against her more adventure-driven sister.
However, the mysterious appearance of a book called The Exquisite Corpse helps brings both girls together, and introduces them to a romance between a young couple that is connected to them both...
While I've read quite a bit of MG in the past couple of years, I've never read anything that felt as friendly as Papademetriou's book. She makes the intriguing choice of having a narrator who repeatedly (and charmingly!) breaks the fourth wall, adding in small tidbits and notes that help elaborate the worlds of Kai, Leila and those around them.
Through this narrator, we're able to get a well-rounded look into Kai and Leila's respective adventures, but also able to see how their separate adventures connect to the greater overall picture. There's an immense satisfaction in seeing how the elements of Kai's life in Texas can connect with both Leila and Edwina and Ralph's love story, and Papademetriou unfolds the clues and elements in a way that will likely give readers immense satisfaction in piecing them together.
Because this is a magical tale with fantastical elements, Papademetriou also doesn't hesitate to utilize those elements into helping to guide the pieces of Kai and Leila's adventures into the hoped-for happily-ever-afters. However, she wisely also makes it a point to have several instances, where she reminds readers that magic can only get her characters so far, and it's up to them to use their wits and gumption to fulfill their destiny - something Kai and Leila prove that they can do beautifully.
Final verdict: A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic is a lovely tale of finding one's self, and figuring out what you want to believe in. Kai and Leila's tales are engaging and relatable, and is sure to connect with younger readers all around.
Of special note: Though it's more of a underlying theme, Papademetriou gets kudos for making it a point to tacitly recognize Leila's feeling of feeling slightly culturally displaced in both the United States and in Pakistan.
Leila's recognition of the fact that she's viewed as being Pakistani in the United States, and as American in Pakistan, is something that I know I've definitely felt in Asia and the US. It's also something that I suspect a lot of kids with mixed heritage occasionally struggle with, and I'm confident that Leila's fictional journey will help them recognize that they're not alone.
About the author:
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Papademetriou is the author of the bestselling Middle School: My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar and Homeroom Diaries (both with James Patterson), the bestselling Confectionately Yours series, and many other novels for middle grade readers. Her books have appeared on the Bank Street Best Books of the Year list, the NYPL Books for the Teen Age, and the Texas Lone Star Reading List, among others. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can visit her online at www.lisapapa.com. Her hilarious, grammar-obsessed alter ego, Ivana Correctya, can be found at www.ivanacorrectya.com.