Review of A TALE OF HIGHLY UNUSUAL MAGIC by LISA PAPADEMETRIOU
(review based on an advance reading copy)
Pre-teens Kai and Leila have more in common than you might think at first glance. While Kai spends her summer in Georgia and Leila in Pakistan, they’re both away from their immediate family, visiting other relatives, and feeling more than a little out of their element in the new and different locale.
Kai feels humbled by the independence her great-aunt provides, so much more than her own mother would ever allow. Meanwhile Leila fears any kind of cultural misstep in Pakistan. Both girls discover an unusual book in their temporary home, titled THE EXQUISITE CORPSE and mostly filled with blank pages. In similar aggravated moods, each of the girls writes in the book. Kai’s words appear in Leila’s book and vice versa, while additional words emerge on the pages, telling a mysterious story that connects to the both girls’ lives more than they realize at first.
I liked everything about this book: the writing, the characters, the setting, the relationships, the magic, and, finally, the interwoven detail about lepidoptera. However, my favorite part is the friendship that develops between Kai and her classmate Doodle. Papademetriou describes such fun, joyful curiosity that it made me remember exciting adventures from my own childhood with fond nostalgia. Exploration and imagination - they’re powerful personal development tools.
Silly as this sounds I admire the book for the feeling of “finished.” I read so many books where the editor in me creeps out with constructive critiques I would have made had I been involved in the finalization of the novel, critiques I believe would make it a better book (or, let’s be honest, sometimes more to my personal taste). This novel possesses a satisfying feeling of being exactly what it should be: a completed story ready for exploration by readers.
This book also increased my respect for Papademetriou as a writer with range. I loved her SIREN’S STORM series, especially for its extraordinary sensory detail. A TALE OF HIGHLY UNUSUAL MAGIC feels so different thematically that I might almost question whether it’s by the same author, which only demonstrates how Papademetriou can skillfully adjust every aspect of her story for an entirely different tone.