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Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

September 5th, 2015 (03:59 pm)
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In the world of Upside-Down Magic, kids go to ordinary schools from kindergarten through fourth grade, then transfer to a different school in fifth grade, when they are about ten years old, because that is when their magical ability appears. Some kids are Flyers, able to float above the ground at will. Some are Flares, able to light candles and toast marshmallows will ease. Those who can turn invisible are called Flickers. If you have a knack for befriending other animals, you're a Fuzzy; if you can shape-shift into different animal forms, then you are a Flux.

Elinor Boxwood Horace, aka Nory, is a Flux - at least, sort of. She's about to go into fifth grade, and she's worried about what's going to happen because she can't control her animal forms. It's difficult for her to shape-shift at all, and then, once she does, she often becomes a combination of two different animals, such as a dragon and a kitten (which she calls a "dritten"), or a beaver and a kitten, or even a skunk and an elephant. When in these hybrid forms, she often destroys things because her "human" brain loses control and her snake or dragon or cat mind takes over and she starts to act on instinct, chewing up books or tables or spewing fire. Nory doesn't mean to cause any damage. She just wants to be "normal" - and for her, that means being able to control her magic and pass the test that will allow her to attend the magic school where her strict father is the headmaster.

Unfortunately, she doesn't pass the test, and instead of attending the school with her thirteen-year-old sister, Dalia, a Fuzzy, and her concerned sixteen-year-old brother, Hawthorn, a Flare, she is sent to live with her aunt Margo and go to a school that has a special class for kids who have magic that's outside of the ordinary -- what they call Upside-Down Magic.

The class is made up of eight students, each with an interesting ability: [Spoiler (click to open)]Nory, as we know, has trouble controlling her animal forms. Her new friend Elliott is a Flare whose fire turns to ice, causing him to freeze things rather than burn them. Andres is a Flyer who defies gravity: he floats all of the time, never touching the ground, which means he hits the ceiling when he's indoors and needs a tether when he's outside so that he doesn't fly up, up, up and away. Pepper is a Fuzzy who scares animals rather than comforting them, so she is called a Fierce, even though her temperament is totally calm and well-meaning. Bax turns into a rock and needs help from the school nurse in order to return to human form. Sebastian sees sound waves and other invisible things. Marigold can shrink objects by touching them. Willa can make it rain - but only indoors, never outdoors. Their teacher, Ms. Starr, is an optimistic lady whose outfits are as bright and sunny as her personality. She is convinced that she can help her students learn to love and respect their abilities.

Not only is it neat that each student has a unique ability, but it is also very neat that the characters in this book are diverse: different races, different families, different personalities, even different senses of fashion. (Nory is particularly fond of her purple jeans.) (I too have purple jeans.) I also liked the Pollyanna nature of the aptly-named Ms. Starr, who won't let her students give up or put themselves down.

Slowly, Nory becomes more comfortable at home with her aunt and at school with her new friends, but deep in her heart, she still wishes she could be like the kids in the other classes at her school, who were easily categorized into one of the main magic tracks because they have skills that can be defined and controlled. So when the opportunity to be "normal" presents itself, Nory tries her best. But then something unexpected happens, and Nory must decide whether to repress or embrace her ability in order to help someone else - and the choice she makes will cement her place in school and in life.

Upside-Down Magic is a fun, magical story that will be enjoyed by kids who wish they had magic of their own. Nory is a sweet character whose journey is easy to follow through this quick read. Upside-Down Magic is the first novel in a new series for young readers by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins. It will be available on September 29th. The second book, Sticks & Stones, will be available sometime in 2016.

Favorite quotes:

"Do you know what the sound waves on badly played musical instruments look like? Sharp! They're like knives to the eyeballs!" - Sebastian (I understand you, kid!)

"I will not tolerate bigotry. I will not tolerate unkindness about race, gender, orientation, family background, religion, weight, magical ability, favorite candy, or anything else that distinguishes one person from another." - Want to know who says this? You've got to read the book!