The Secret Science of Magic – Melissa Keil

Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.

A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.

Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.

I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.

“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”

Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.

Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.

“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”

Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.

Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.

The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.

What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.

Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

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Tin Heart – Shivaun Plozza

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During a trip to Maleny recently we stopped at the local bookshop, and I bought a copy of Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza. My expectations for this book were high. I was a huge fan of Frankie. I remember reading it in my role as CBCA judge, and I immediately knew within a few pages that it was going to be a short-listed book. I was nervous about reading Tin Heart and can only imagine how Shivaun Plozza felt about writing and publishing ‘the difficult second book’. I was not to be disappointed, Tin Heart like Frankie is gritty, funny and moving.

One of the reasons that I loved Frankie so much was because she was a character that you both enjoyed and disliked. At times it was confusing to like Frankie because of her attitude and the choices she made, but deep down you knew that she didn’t mean to hurt anyone and there was no malice in her. Marlowe in Tin Heart is very similar to Frankie in this regard, but in every other way, they are different. When I talked to boys about the character of Frankie, I would say that she was the type of girl you should want to date or be best friends with and I also think Marlowe would make a great girlfriend/best-friend.

In her second novel, Tin Heart (Penguin), Shivaun Plozza tells the story of seventeen-year-old Marlowe who undergoes an organ transplant. Marlowe Jensen was The Dying Girl, and now she has a second chance at life, but Marlowe is finding it hard to move on with her new life when she now has someone else’s heart beating in her chest. She feels an overwhelming need to know more about her donor and so sets off on a quest to find her donor’s family, disregarding their request for no contact. Of course, Marlowe’s determination to get to know her donor and his family creates emotional chaos and sets in motion a chain of events that will impact on everyone around her.

Despite these strong themes, Tin Heart remains light-hearted and funny. It is gorgeously written and has a cast of engaging characters that will delight and charm you. There is Pip, Marlowe’s younger brother who likes dressing up in costumes but with a twist – gingham pinafore, red wig, combat boots and tiger-face paint (Jungle Anne of Green Gables, of course). Her mum, the vegan warrior who has just opened her dream vegan-organic-wellness store (Blissfully Aware) and who lives her life as vegan/mother warrior. Oh, and of course Blissfully Aware just happens to be next door to Bert’s quality butcher. Then there is Zan, the Chinese-Australian girl who is ‘the coolest of cool’. And Leo, the butcher’s son who Marlowe finds endearing and exasperating. Plozza has a gift for writing flawed but adorable characters that stay with you long after you finish the book.

Frankie was the novel that introduced us to Shivaun Plozza, and as readers, we quickly realise what immense talent she was, and Tin Heart only reinforces this and makes us understand that Plozza is a captivating voice in YA fiction and will continue to find a place in our hearts with her gorgeous books.

Tin Heart2 Continue reading Tin Heart – Shivaun Plozza