Monday, June 22, 2009
Magic and Misery
Peter Marino, March 2009. Pan (short for "pansy") and TJ are best friends, and she's not really in love with him - very much, anyway. Any more, anyway, now that she knows he's gay. Still, TJ relies on Pan even more than best friends normally do; she needs his help dealing with her disturbed toddler brother as well as making her feel pretty. When she starts dating Caspar, things begin to go wrong; the two boys don't get along, and she feels that Pan's abandoned her just when her life has started to improve.
The plot is a standard one, although it's executed well. The characters, however, are outstanding - nothing formula here. Caspar in particular is far more than just a typical love interest. He's a jock with depth, but it goes further than that; he's incredibly thoughtful, smart, awkward, and above all, consistent and real. Parents are often cookie-cutter figures in teen books, but in this case, both sets - Pan's and TJ's - are natural and appealing. They're in the book as characters, not as Stock Parents. Even more intriguing is Paolo, TJ's younger brother, who seems to have an emotional or behavioral disorder. This isn't diagnosed in the book, so what the reader sees is the effect such a child has on the family. The one peripheral character who does fall flat is Tammie, TJ's bitchy boss, who appears only as a foil for TJ and Pan. Still, the author has worked hard to create these characters, and his work pays off.
Highly recommended, then - if you can get the right reader to pick it up. The cover art is sadly 1990s, and the title is worse. Magic and Misery? There is no magic in the book, nor any fantastical element. I'm worried this won't get into the hands of realistic-novel readers, and the SF/F crowd that will pick it up based on the title will end up disappointed.