Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
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The unsolvable problem: If Sophia is a genius, why can’t she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?
Fact: Sophia is smart. As in, certified-child-prodigy, breezing-through-uni-subjects-even-though-she’s-only-in-year-twelve smart. This terrifies her, because geniuses have a tendency to end up as recluses and weirdos – and with her current social ineptness, she’s halfway there already.
Truth: Joshua is good at magic tricks, ignoring most things about year twelve, and not thinking at all about life after high school.
Fact: Sophia can’t even talk to her best friend Elsie about her anxieties, because Elsie is firmly focused on her own future – and on plans that will mean leaving Sophia behind.
Truth: Joshua has had a secret crush on Sophia since forever, but he doesn’t have forever to act on it.
Fact: There are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for … and the messiness of the real world is one of them.
Truth: Timing is everything.
The long-awaited YA novel from the award-winning author of Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.
I was provided a ARC of this book by Hardie Grant Egmont in exchange for an honest review. However, this is no way affects my thoughts!
It’s impossible to understand the feeling of never seeing yourself represented in popular media unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. Growing up a minority, the lack of exposure to representation forces you to internalize the fact that you’re “different” from a very young age and it has a monumental impact on your sense of self. Whether it’s hating the colour of your skin because it will never be traditionally beautiful, or hiding a part of yourself for of fear of being “other”, it becomes a painful reality in many lives. The only way around this is through the representation of all minorities – it’s why I, and so many others in the book community continuously advocate for diverse characters and diverse stories – it truly has the ability to change the world.
When I first picked up The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil, it was because it had an interesting premise and a beautiful cover (no shame). But then I started reading and I was hit with the fact that Sophia, our main character, was of Sri Lankan descent. For the first time in almost 21 years, I was quite literally seeing myself in a book and it almost brought me to tears. It is so rare to see PoC characters in contemporary YA fiction – and close to impossible for them to be South Asian – so to say that I was shocked (and low key jumping with joy) is an understatement.
Despite the fact that Australia is actually a very multicultural country, it is never reflected as such in the media, in films or in books and I applaud Melissa Keil for deciding to portray a very realistic Melbourne in her writing. Not only were Sophia and her best friend, Elsie, South Asian but many of their classmates were from also from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, and I felt that it reflected a high school environment true to the one of my teenage years.
Saying this, The Secret Science of Magic was a great book in its own right. It had wonderful writing, witty dialogue and a unique plot to back it up. Joshua was a strong character to stand opposite Sophia and I particularly enjoyed that he wasn’t typical in the “YA boyfriend” sense. He was true to himself, had the hugest crush on Sophia and was unapologetically obsessed with magic – he was basically just an adorable geek. The discussion of anxiety on Sophia’s part was also handled really well and realistically and the romance between the two was really organic.
Although I wish that the novel delved deeper into Sophia’s cultural background (we see more of Elsie’s household then we do of Sophia’s), it was still incredibly powerful to know that she was Sri Lankan. Truthfully, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did if it hadn’t featured diverse characters. A lot of arguments against the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement is that readers don’t read books because they are diverse, but instead read them because they are good. And as the diverse YA readership has repeated over and over again, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. And for me, books are just made better by the inclusion of diverse characters.
Diverse characters (that have been well-researched and are not tokenised) demonstrate the skill of an author to create realistic, fleshed out worlds (whether it be in contemporary or in fantasy). It adds depth to the story, through nuanced and unique characters, and overall just makes for a more interesting read. Before I started reading diversely, I used to hate reading YA contemporary because I just did not relate to (nor care about) any of the characters and always found myself getting incredibly bored. Diverse contemporaries (and fantasies for that matter) really opened up my reading experience and allowed me to be exposed to so many brilliant stories that I would have otherwise missed.
Because of this, I am always more inclined to rate diverse books higher than their non-diverse counterparts. This may seem dishonourable to some, but then again, if you’re allowed to rate books higher because they include your favourite trope, or you really enjoyed the romance, then I’m allowed to rate diverse books higher because they gave me (or someone else) the opportunity to finally see themselves reflected in the pages of a book.
Thought piece aside, definitely pick up The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil. With delightful characters, beautiful writing and a relatable plot, this book really creates a magic of its own.
Until next time,