Author: Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 2012
Hardcover: 277 Pages
In Abby’s world, magic isn’t anything special: it’s a part of everyday life. So when Abby learns that she has zero magical abilities, she’s branded an “Ord”—ordinary, bad luck, and quite possibly a danger to society.
The outlook for kids like Abby isn’t bright. Many are cast out by their families, while others are sold to treasure hunters (ordinary kids are impervious to spells and enchantments). Luckily for Abby, her family enrolls her in a school that teaches ordinary kids how to get around in a magical world. But with treasure-hunting kidnappers and carnivorous goblins lurking around every corner, Abby’s biggest problem may not be learning how to be ordinary—it’s whether or not she’s going to survive the school year!
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Ordinary Magic series
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I confess that I hadn’t really heard about this book until Stephanie Burgis (author of the amazing Kat Stephenson books) pointed it out in her awesome Smugglivus guest post as one of her favorite MG books of the year. Given how much I love Stephanie’s writing (plus how much I loved the other book she mentions in the post, Above World), I immediately purchased Ordinary Magic and resolved to review it ASAP.
Abby Hale leads a happy and normal life for a twelve year old – she goes to school every day and she’s lucky enough to have a large, loving family and plenty of friends. And, just like anyone else her age, Abby cannot wait to be Judged, because Judgement means she will finally be an Adult and that she’ll FINALLY be able to use magic (just like everyone else in the world). On the day of her Judgement, Abby is an excited mess of nerves and she wonders what rating she’ll receive – most kids get a Judgement of 5 or so (although Abby’s eldest sister, Alexa, got a nearly unheard-of 9 rating!). But Abby doesn’t even pass her first test, and she is Judged as having absolutely zero magical potential.
In other words, Abby is an Ord – that is, she’s “Ordinary” therefore impervious to magic and anathema to society.
You see, in Abby’s world, everything relies on magic, from the rooms in her family’s house to the shortcake that Abby’s mother conjures in her bakery. Ords are a danger because they can see through any spells and cannot be affected by magic, and reviled – they are treated as though their Ord-ness is a contagious disease (it’s not), and their basic human rights are stripped away. For instance Ords, especially Ord children, are often sold as slaves to traveling Adventurers (who find it useful to have someone impervious to magic on hand to walk through magical booby traps in the pursuit of treasure).
Abby soon learns all of this, as she’s kicked out of school, her supposed friends keep their distance, and a pair of brutal Adventurers show up at her family’s doorstep looking to purchase Abby for their next adventure. At least Abby has her family who stand by her and love her just as much as if she had been proclaimed an immensely powerful young mage. And just when all seems lost, Abby learns that her life is not without hope and opportunity – her eldest sister, Alexa, works a top secret job in Education for the kingdom, and it turns out she (and newly coronated King Stephen) has been a champion for Ords for years, protecting a school for Ordinary children in the heart of the kingdom’s capitol city. Soon enough, Abby is whisked away to Margaret Green School in Rothmere, where she learns that she is one of many Ords, where she makes new friends, and learns how to protect herself and use her Ordinariness to her advantage. Of course, danger abounds (what with redcaps and desperate Adventurers about), but with the help of her family and her friends, Abby may just be able to make it through her first year of school alive.
Well, thank you Stephanie Burgis! Ordinary Magic is EVERY bit as wonderful as promised – there’s nothing ordinary about it. The core premise of the book is simple, but brilliant in its simplicity; Abby’s world is like a reverse Harry Potter, in which the entire universe is magical, except for a very small subset of folks that are despised for their non-magical-ness. Instead of going to a school for the gifted, Abby goes to a school where she can be safe and where she can learn how to live life in a world built for others (really, upon reflection, “Ords” and “Oridnary” seems a misnomer because Abby and her fellow Ords are not average or typical in the slightest – in fact they are very OUT of the ordinary). The revulsion that other characters feel for Abby and her new friends is a searing, believable examination of xenophobia, of racism, of the despicable fear of those who are different. I love the careful, considered examination of these issues in the book, in a way that never feels didactic or exploitative, and is seamlessly integral to the story.
I also love the consideration of the world itself, too. While I wonder where the fear and hatred for Ords came from (fodder for future books, right?), I love the distinction between ords being impervious to magic, but NOT impervious to normal things that would kill anyone. As one of Abby’s teachers points out, ords are impervious to magical fire, but they will burn just like anyone else if a spell is cast that creates a non-magical, regular fire. We also get to see just how ingrained magic is in this world, as when Abby volunteers for kitchen duty, she – for the very first time in her life! – has to wash a dish (dirty dishes in the Hale household are magicked away and back into existence, clean as ever).
But you know what I loved most of all about this book? The characters, and the relationships between the characters. I adored the family dynamic between Abby, her sisters Olivia and Alexa, and her protective brothers Gil and Jeremy, and especially her parents. Instead of absentee parents, or cruel siblings, the Hale family is a tight-knit bunch that unconditionally loves its youngest member, Abby. I even love the realistic tension that emerges at Abby’s school – because unlike other Ords, Abby is incredibly lucky to have a supportive family (so many other family’s turn their children out or sell them when they are Judged to be Ords), to the resentment of other characters.
And then there’s our heroine Abby, herself. Like Stephanie Burgis’ Kat Stephenson books, I love that the novel follows Abby and not her older siblings – let’s face it, the story of Alexa, who is a level 9 mage (that’s 9 out of a possible – or rather, impossible – 10!) and selflessly devoted to improving the law and living conditions for Ords even before her sister was claimed one is an easy shoe-in for heroine of a YA or older fantasy series. That said, how predictable would that have been? I LOVE the perspective we get from Abby who is NOT powerful or particularly ingenius, but who has guts and the love of her family and friends to guide her. She’s brave and resourceful, but the thing that is so awesome about Abby is her belief and trust in those she cares for. And that’s just Abby! The other characters in this book are brilliantly detailed and fleshed out, from the curmudgeonly Peter (there’s a sweet beginning of a romance here, handled beautifully) to the passionate ord self-defense teacher Becky.
What else can I say about Ordinary Magic? This is a fantastic book in a richly imagined and fascinating world. I loved Ordinary Magic very, very much, and I sincerely hope there will be more adventures of Abby and her fellow Ords in the very near future.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The day of my Judging dawned bright and clear and hot. It was searing; the air pressed against my chest with each breath. It was Olivia’s turn to look after me (to make sure my dresser cast up the right clothes, that food appeared on the table, and that the hundreds of everyday things that needed doing when you were underage got done) and with all the craziness going on, no one noticed her smuggling me up to the upstairs bathroom. Then she attacked me.
“It hurts because you’re not holding still. You know, we’d be done by now if I could do this normally.” The tiules scritched together as Olivia called in magic, and the bathroom took on a funnys ort of double vision, a blurry knife’s edge between reality and what Olivia wanted it to be. I could see it, but I couldn’t feel it – you can’t when you’re a kid, not until you’re ready, not until after you have been Judged.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
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