Monday, March 24, 2014

A SNICKER OF MAGIC


Review of A SNICKER OF MAGIC by NATALIE LLOYD
(review based on an advance reading copy)

What a wonderfully sweet and whimsical story. And what a perfect title! A SNICKER OF MAGIC isn’t what I would call a fantasy novel; it’s more like magical realism with a teaspoon or two of enchantment thrown into the mundane. The magic feels a little strange and abstract and like it’s not meant to be closely analyzed but viewed from a distance as flexible metaphors. The magic isn’t necessarily logical, because the story’s more about the characters and the mysterious wonder of these strange happenings.

Felicity Pickle has returned with her mama, little sister Frannie Jo, and their dog Biscuit to her mother’s hometown where they stay with Felicity’s aunt Cleo. Felicity’s mama has a wandering heart, as people like to say. Their family never stays anywhere for long before she’s packing them all up again, and Felicity’s heartfelt yearning to settle somewhere tugged at my sentimental side in the very first chapter. She befriends someone special at school and soon her new friend convinces Felicity to enter a school competition. Despite some serious public speaking anxiety, she agrees mostly in an effort to convince her mama that they have to stay at least until the competition.

See, Felicity has a magical gift of her own. She can see words. They hover around people, each one distinct and inventively animated. I adored Lloyd’s (or Felicity’s) descriptions of the words. As one example, consider how she captures the word “believe”: “The letters were made of melted sunshine. They dripped down the window glass, warm and tingly against our faces.” This is what I mean by the book being more magical realism than fantasy. Felicity’s word gift isn’t logically explained or dissected as a kind of magical system or fantastical worldbuilding effort, and it doesn’t serve much purpose except as both a blessing and a burden for Felicity - blessing by making her special and burden by making her different.

Lloyd has a word knack of her own. In full honesty, I didn’t find the story that captivating on its own. Don’t get me wrong - it’s a good story, but it’s not remarkable or gush-worthy. However, I found the writing remarkable and gush-worthy, so much that it elevated everything else about the book. Lloyd’s a little magical with words herself, creating so many apt and unique descriptions and metaphors. Consider Felicity’s observation of her mother’s eye color: “Her eyes used to be as bright blue as a summer sky, but now they looked like jeans faded from too many tumbles through a washing machine." This talent’s especially apparent in characterizing the words Felicity sees everywhere she goes. Naturally, I consider great writing particularly important in a book that focuses on words and Lloyd certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Really my only small criticism is that I struggled pinpointing Felicity’s age. I’m sure Lloyd mentioned it early on, but I think only once or twice. I didn’t absorb the information and tried going back and re-reading earlier chapters for her age but couldn’t find it. I’m guessing pre-teen, around 12. I would be surprised if it’s any older than that and not terribly shocked if she’s actually as young as 8. That’s a wide range and the age doubt could be a little confusing.

That note aside, what a splendiferous book!

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