Title: The Secret Science of Magic
Authors: Melissa Keil
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
RRP: $19.99

Told in alternate voices of Sophia and Joshua, Melissa Keil’s new novel is enjoyable and heartfelt. Both characters are extremely likeable and many times throughout the book I laughed with them, felt like yelling at them, or just enjoyed their company. Sophia, although never having had her IQ tested, is very smart and a high academic achiever. She idolizes Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman, a superhero in her eyes. However when she begins to suffer anxiety attacks she is forced to take Drama, for its (supposedly) cathartic qualities. She does not agree on this and finds it is one area where she is unable to achieve. Unbeknown to Sophia, Joshua is in love with her. He is a magician, working part time in a magic shop while finishing Year 12.

The narrative leisurely progresses from their first official meeting, at an open day at Melbourne University, through to their lives becoming more entwined. Sophia is the victim of several magical phenomena, during which time her and Joshua begin to get to know each other. At the same time the reader gets to know each character’s family and friendship groups, sometimes better than the characters themselves. Keil’s ability to show and not tell is woven throughout, allowing the reader to have ownership over the narrative. The developing relationship of the two main characters is sometimes at the expense of other important aspects of their lives. In particular, Sophia’s friendship with Elsie suffers considerably, mainly due to Sophia’s inability to notice what might be affecting others. While this is unintentional, it has consequences.

The characters, minor and major, are very well drawn and ring true to the reader. From Sophia and her brother’s fragile but caring relationship, to the banter among Elsie’s vibrant family and Joshua’s work colleagues, the characters are diverse and exciting. Joshua’s efforts to win Sophia’s affections are both sincere and thoughtful, and the reader is with him all the way.

This is a must for secondary school libraries and all public libraries. Set in Melbourne, Australia, it will have global appeal with Keil’s clever and authentic story telling.

Many thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for supplying this book for review.

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