Majix: Funny and heartwarming YA

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Douglas Rees MajixMajix by Douglas Rees

Majix: Notes from a Serious Teen Witch is charming in both senses of the word. Told from the point-of-view of a fourteen-year-old Wiccan, Majix is a funny and heartwarming story about family, friends, and finding oneself. It isn’t quite a fantasy novel, though there’s arguably a little magical realism in it. For the most part, the “magic” is really psychology. I think believers and skeptics could enjoy this book equally.

It’s a little annoying at first. Kestrel “never call me Susan” Murphy comes off as something of a brat, and it takes a while to get used to her slangy narration. Meanwhile, her workaholic father and shopaholic mother are hardly candidates for Parents of the Year. When a row between Kestrel and her father results in dad having a heart attack, Kestrel is sent away to live in the town of Jurupa with her eccentric Aunt Ariel.

Aunt Ariel, who is also a witch, is a great role model for Kestrel, but it takes Kestrel a while to see past Ariel’s weight, white-light attitude, and offbeat fashion sense. Then there’s Kestrel’s new school, which is even less promising: Richard Milhous Nixon Union High, home of the Fighting Orthogonians and a hilarious school song. There, Kestrel encounters bullies, Mean Girls, a tyrannical principal – and maybe a few new friends.

Kestrel starts a journal (a.k.a. the novel), which she intends as a record of her magical progress. Instead, it becomes more of a diary about her life as she finds her footing in Jurupa. For the most part, it’s told in ordinary narrative, but Kestrel occasionally transcribes conversations in script format or breaks into the story with a list, such as “MAGICK I TRIED THAT DIDN’T WORK” or “HERE IS WHAT THERE IS ABOUT HOSPITALS THAT MAKES THEM HOSPITALS.” I thought I’d find this irritating, but instead it worked just fine and added to the “journal” feel.

Douglas Rees does a terrific job with Kestrel’s voice. Who’d have thought a sixtyish male author could conjure up a 14-year-old girl’s voice so well? Maybe he has some “majix” of his own…

Kestrel’s journey is compelling, and her character will be relatable to young adults who feel like they don’t quite fit in — and not-so-young adults who once felt that way. But this is far from an angstfest. Rees peppers Majix with plenty of humor (the chapter “Sticks” is coffee-through-the-nose funny) and moments of beauty.

If there’s anything about Majix that I’d complain about, it’s that some of the outcomes for Kestrel and her friends are almost too sunny to be believed. This is, however, a small quibble. After all, there are far worse things than spending a few hours in a world where underdogs can triumph by doing the right thing and being true to themselves.

Majix: Notes from a Serious Teen Witch — (2010) Publisher: My name is Kestrel. Kestrel Murphy. Never call me Susan. Who ever heard of a witch named Susan? A year ago, I was on the white-magic side. Lately, I’ve been leaning toward the black. I blame the universe. What’s the point in being a nice little white witch in the universe I’ve got? If I could choose my own universe, I’d be a white witch in it. But black makes a lot more sense in this universe. Not that I’m complaining. A witch never complains. But if I did, I’d have a lot to complain about. For instance: Richard Milhous Nixon High. What’s a teen witch to do when she’s stuck in the most unmagical high school in the universe? Create her own “majix.” Take notes. And above all, avoid nasty classmates, heartless grown-ups and boys who may prove a little too distracting for a serious teen witch to handle…

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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