Book Review: “A Most Magical Girl” by Karen Foxlee (#AWW2017 @karenfoxlee)

 

I started reading Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl (Knopf/Piccadilly Press/Allen & Unwin, 2016) after a copy was gifted to my ten-year-old friend by a thirty-something. Age is not an issue in this case. Neither does it matter that the book’s protagonist Annabel Grey reminds me so much of Harry Potter on the eve of entering the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. What’s important is Foxlee’s vivid imagination and fascinating capacity to create a world that is at once silly and chilling. Terry Pratchett certainly comes to mind, yet I totally agree with Leanne Hall’s assessment that the book “has a most villainous villain for kids” — and even for adults!

I often recall U.S. author Alison Cherry’s remarks on how to distinguish Young Adult and Middle Grade books. “The answer I give people who don’t know anything about publishing is ‘MG is appropriate for kids ages 8-12’, but of course that’s not relevant to a lot of kids — there are ten-year-olds who read tons of YA, and there are six-year-olds who can handle middle grade with no problem.” She goes to say,

One explanation I really like is that MG is often more internally focused — about figuring out who you are and how you relate to your family and friends — and YA is more broadly focused — about figuring out where you fit into the context of the wider world.

In this sense, A Most Magical Girl appears to be a book for MG readers. It is all about self-discovery and individual capacity to manage primitive emotions such as fear, isolation and self-doubt. But it is also about faith, which is often blind but always, ALWAYS stubborn as thousand-year-old tree roots. Particularly for a young person, faith both hurts and sustains almost eternally, and it takes courage and patience to figure out a balance between rejecting/resenting it and depending/surviving upon it. It is through their adventures that the three characters — Annabel, Kitty and Hafwen — manage to find their own sense of balance between magic and reality.

A Most Magical Girl is also about one’s willingness to make decisions and face up to their consequences. While neither children nor adults are able to foresee all the consequences, they need to mentally prepare themselves for whatever may be coming after the moment of choice. It will be to acknowledge and manage the tasks at hand, instead of denial and casting blame. Annabel, Kitty and Hafwen get to learn this lesson in their own unique ways, and it is the understanding that they are not alone — that they can help and depend on each other — that enables them to conquer all the obstacles in their journeys.

Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl is the winner of the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2017. It is shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year: Young Readers 2017. You can find more information about this book here.

 

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