Sunday, May 07, 2023

Ellie Engle Saves Herself

Johnson, Leah. Ellie Engle Saves Herself
May 2, 2023 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Ellie is perfectly content staying home and reading comic books, although her best friend, Abby, is not. Ellie's life at home is pretty quiet since her Dad moved out and her mother works long hours, but she enjoys going to visit Abby's more bustling family. She's also missing her grandfather, who has recently passed away. When there is an earthquake right before school, everyone's day is a challenge, but Ellie feels especially strange. When she touches her goldfish, which she thinks has died, and it comes back to life, she has even more concerns. She runs some experiments on her own (she can't bring a rotisserie chicken back to life!), but can't really explain why she has this new ability. It's cool, but somewhat uncomfortable, sort of like the way she feels about Abby. Sure, it's her best friend, but she likes her as a little more than that. Abby is also the first one she tells about her powers, and they freak Abby out a bit. It's hard to juggle the magical abilities, and it becomes even more of a challenge when the media finds out about them. She tries to manage her own publicity by contacting the media herself, but when she brings a dog back to life, she learns a hard lesson about the give and take of the universe. 
Strengths: I'm pretty sure that if you polled middle schoolers, 95% of them would want magical powers. The other 5% wouldn't look up from their phones long enough to opine. The idea that an earthquake could just cause someone to have the ability to bring the dead back to life is definitely innovative. Middle grade readers are also big fans of social media, and many of them want to be YouTube stars without fully understanding how unpleasant that kind of fame could be, so I liked that Ellie, even though she wasn't really searching for fame, had to deal with it in a realistic way. Her mother's struggles at providing for her are realistic, and something we should see more of in middle grade literature, and the bakery is a great place for Ellie to occasionally hang out, and Mr. Walker (the owner and Poppy's best friend) is a huge support. 
Weaknesses: I wished that the magic had been something a little different. Anything with reanimating dead things has me envisioning zombie hordes, no matter how light and bright the cover is. I loved that she made plants grow, but bringing back living creatures always makes me a little uneasy.
What I really think: It's hard to find books where there is just one person who suddenly has magic; usually it's passed down throuh families, a developed trait that requires schooling, or a world where some portion of the population has magic. Readalikes might include Royce's Root Magic , Thayer's The Talent Thief, Kessler's Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins (invisibility rather than magic) or Villanueva's Sugar and Spite, but Ellie's magic is a little unusual and will speak to readers who hope that they, too, will suddenly have powers one day. 

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