Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Magical Imperfect

Baron, Chris. The Magical Imperfect
June 15th 2021 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Etan lives north of San Francisco in 1989. His father and grandfather have a jewelry store, and his mother is currently in the hospital as the result of some mental health issues. To cope with this, Etan is not able to speak most of the time. This causes his friends with whom he plays baseball to distance themselves from him, and his family's social circle, with whom they frequently celebrate Shabbat, has dwindled. Upstairs neighbor Mrs. Hershkovitz (whose dog Etan walks) sometimes comes, but it is a lonely time for the family. The grandfather survived World War II by leaving Prague and making his way to Angel Island in 1940 via Greece, and the community has many members from all over the world, including the Philippines. Etan also runs errands for a local shopkeeper, and when he is out delivering something to the Agbayani family, he connects with their daughter. Malia has severe eczema, which is irritated by the sun, and is homeschooler because of this medical issue and also because other children frequently call her "the creature". Malia is a great singer, and when a talent show is scheduled to be held at the local community center, Etan encourages her to participate. His grandfather has recently shown him some family heirlooms, including earth from the Dead Sea collector by the grandfather's grandfather, which is thought to have strong healing properties. Because of the mother's illness, the father is having trouble going back to the synagogue, and has been intent on watching the World Series instead of participating in family religious ceremonies, which angers the grandfather. Even though the talent show is on the same day as a big game his father wants him to attend, Etan uses some of the mud to try to help Malia, and the two sneak out to the talent show. Of course, the timing is bad, because there is a massive earthquake. Will Malia and Etan be able to work through their various problems with the help of family and each other?
Strengths: While the community of Ship's Haven is fictional, I liked the small shops and feeling of community. The grandfather's story was interesting, and the inclusion of Jewish culture and Filipino food was both fun and informative. The short verse chapters are labeled with dates, so the story progresses quickly toward October 17, 1989 with a feeling of urgency. There's just enough baseball included, and it draws in several different threads of the plot in an interesting way. Malia's condition is one I have not seen portrayed much in middle grade fiction. Despite these several serious issues, the novel is hopeful in tone.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of topics covered, and the novel in verse format meant that I still had a lot of questions at the end of the book. In particular, I would have liked to know more about what was being done to help Etan process his mother's illness and deal with his selective mutism. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who are interested in 1980s history, children facing challenges, magical realism, or novels in verse.

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