Middle Grade Monday Book Review – Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch
Clay is a go along to get along kind of guy. Almost thirteen, he is a fairly typical adolescent; he likes to skateboard, wears hoodies, and has a sustained interest in graffiti style art. Not that he would ever do something illegal, like tag a building, but he does like to practice and the walls of his room are covered in his art work. So, it comes as a great shock to him to walk into school and find one of his ‘pieces’ written distinctly on the wall (MAGIC SUCKS!), and signed with his name.
Understandably, the school believes that Clay has defaced their property and makes ‘a punishment’ a condition of his return to school for the following year. They allow Clay’s parents to decide what form that punishment will take. In essence, this means that Clay gets to decide.
Wait, let’s back up a little… You see, both of Clay’s parents are psychologists. Clay has a much older brother, Max-Ernest, whom his parents believe they parented too actively. So, when Clay is born 12 years later, they decide to go completely hands-off. So Clay is raised mostly by Max-Ernest…until he disappears. Now Clay is essentially raising himself. Which leads to the explanation for MAGIC SUCKS! being a piece of Clay’s work. Max-Ernest’s abiding passion was magic tricks, and he taught Clay many of them. When Max-Ernest leaves the family with virtually no explanation, Clay needs a focus for his anger and resentment – he chooses magic.
Clay’s parents, for once, decide to choose ‘a consequence’ for him, and send him to Earth Ranch, which is advertised as a camp designed to help “children outgrow problem behaviors and reach their full potential.” After reading the brochure, helpfully provided by the teacher that believes Clay tagged the school wall, he declares that it is “Alcatraz… on a volcano… with llamas!” He’s not wrong. This is where most of the action of the book takes place.
What happens at camp, and indeed most of the book, is based loosely on William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Being only vaguely aware of it myself, I can confidently say that lack of knowledge of Shakespeare, or The Tempest, will not impede young readers in their enjoyment of this novel.
This highly entertaining read reminded me of two things – Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books, and Louis Sachar’s book Holes. Narrated in third person omniscient, and often directly addressing the reader, it is somewhat similar in style and tone to the SUE. The whole ‘weird camp that you don’t understand where their is something else going on’ thing is also a major component. Although, thankfully, the adults involved are all sympathetic to the protagonist. I really enjoy books that manage to pull this type of story off without making an adult evil. Not that it doesn’t fully convey the adolescent sense of misunderstanding of adult motives and lack of personal agency. It has that in spades.
I highly recommend this engaging read to anyone serving Middle Grades students. It is scheduled to be available for purchase this September from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (ISBN 9780316320382).
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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