Book Review: A Snicker of Magic

SNICKER OF MAGICA Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd and published by Scholastic Press in 2014.

I loved this book. Going in I had absolutely no expectations, but was very, very pleasantly surprised. I liked it from the first and all the way through the end. Between the combination of magic and word-loving, the prose was light while the topics a bit heavier, all wrapped in a youthful magic-realism full of interesting people and suspenseful story.

My biggest complaint about this book: the cover and title. Ice cream? Snicker? No to both. It’s completely true that both of these things were prevalent in the book, but somehow taking them out of the book and highlighting them on the cover had a completely different vibe, for me. All I see on that cover is a kid’s book about an ice cream shop. “Snicker,” in this context, is just “Snickers,” like the candy bar. Which does nothing to reveal the magical, lyrical, sleepy mountain town feel of this book or the Big Fish quality.

Next in line: the romance was a little old for the audience. Maybe the older end (12), but definitely not 8. I find this to be true of many books for Middle Grades. When there is romance, it is just too advanced for the age group. It’s like the grown-up writers are trying to infuse the craziness of junior high, blossoming attraction and affection with the wisdom of more mature love. This is the second book I have read this year where the romance of two twelve-year-olds is on par with the most practiced and committed marriages. Perhaps modelling this way is okay? I just find it distracting and creepy, while also being torn wanting it to bloom into a marriage or something. I really think Lloyd could have kept the two characters just best friends (which in some ways, I suppose, she sort of did. But we know what was really going on).

I also started forgetting who people were. Now, that’s pretty hypocritical coming from an author whose last book covered forty people in two hundred pages, but it’s a fact and I’m going to state it. I love having a lot of characters, but I definitely dropped threads on some of the more minor ones.

And how quickly can one person eat a pint of ice cream? I find myself really on the look-out, lately, for how timing and dialogue are handled in books. There was one case in this book where a character arrived somewhere after school, had a quick conversation, and arrived home late at night. Whuh?!? Also, people scarfed whole pints of ice cream in like five minutes, over and over again. Whuh?!? I was left wondering if Lloyd doesn’t just adore ice cream so much she had to force it in there. Or was this part of the magic of the ice cream? If it was, she didn’t say so. “Goes down magically easy.”

One of my favorite things about the book was that it was about the South, but not about the South. You could just tell that the author found this place and these people to be comfortable, so there was no forcing things down our throat. There was a respect and an easiness that I have not seen in Southern literature in a long while.

Topic-wise, I appreciated that it was about moving and about not fitting in, two things that kids can really relate to. I also appreciated that it contained a disabled character but not a whopping, heavy disabled-character storyline. He was disabled. Okay. This book is about imperfect people, which is also great, although I’m not sure what I think about a twelve-year-old grasping that all the adults around her were broken and most of them were lonely. Felicity was definitely mature beyond her years, sometimes unrealistically so. (Then again, it is a book.) But it’s a stretch, I think, for most kids in the designated age group to gravitate to this book–full of mature observations and a featured love of language–over, say, a fairy tale or superhero series. It’s more on par with more “difficult” and classic literature from the age group, like The Secret Garden or Charlotte’s Web.

I loved how real so much of it was. All the way from the smoking, Dorito-breakfasting aunt to the bed in the family room to whatever. Lloyd was never trying to hush up any family secrets or glaze over the normal parts of Midnight Gulch. While fiction can be that world-away-from-the-world thing, I loved that this book was not like that. Despite the magic themes, this book really celebrates the normalcy of life.

The ending was fine. It could have been handled a little more deftly, I think, but fine. I was nervous coming up on it, because I didn’t want a great book to be spoiled. Despite a little bit of hokiness (which is immensely difficult to avoid) and perhaps some imperfect timing, the ending was on point with the book. If I were an upper elementary school teacher, I would definitely put this on the required reading list, although the girls are going to relate to it more than the boys, in most cases.

Among other awards, A Snicker of Magic has been named a top book of 2014 for National Public Radio (NPR), New York Public Library, and Parents Magazine.

I would give it four stars, at least. Definitely a recommend. Very much looking forward to Natalie Lloyd’s next book.

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This could make a great movie. Tim Burton? It would seriously be like a kid version of Big Fish.

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QUOTES:

“I don’t mind running, but only if I’m running toward something wonderful. I don’t see the point in running away from anything, ever” (p124).

“I could climb to the prickliest star in the sky and scratch its back. I could climb past that even, all the way to heaven, and give God a high five for bringing my family together” (p125).

“He saw the whole world from the basket of that balloon. But the whole world’s nothing compared to the people you love” (p160).

“Home isn’t just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you’re brave enough to love people” (p302).

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