{book} the magic half

Fairy tales and science fiction* make the odd pairing in The Magic Half. Magic makes the time-travel easier—at least to explain, anyway. And The Magic Half may be a nice introduction to time-travelling for the younger set; as well as serve as a reminder of the perils of being a sibling, an orphan, and/or living in 1935.

Miri is a single child in the middle of a family with two sets of twins–older brothers and younger sisters. When the family moves to an old farmhouse, Miri travels back in time to 1935 and discovers Molly, a girl in need of a family to call her own.~publisher’s comment

Siblings will quickly recognize and empathize with Miri, and while the mother is loving, she is stern enough to set the angst in motion. Sent to her room in the attic of their new old farmhouse, Miri finds a portal that sends her backward in time to 1935, within the same room, that is then occupied by a girl of the same age. Molly claims it is the work of fairies, and indeed, she is of a lineage of fairies, so she would know. Miri doesn’t know what it is, but if she ever wants to go home again, she better find out.

Molly’s home-life complicates the adventure of Miri’s search for a way home–even as it facilitates the return. The problem is Horst, Molly’s cousin who truly is a terrifying figure. He is abusive to Molly in ways the author restrains, while still making Miri (and Reader) feel rescue is imperative. Fortunately, Miri is a clever girl and works out how she was able to travel through time. Which creates a new problem to solve. How to maintain the time-stream, so as nothing major is changed to interrupt the loop.

Magic steps aside for a thoughtful construction of consequences, and “we’re running out of time, hurry before something irreversible happens!” steps up the pacing of the novel. Plotting and Panic are in carefully balanced to create the puzzle and propulsion. Yes, today’s review is brought to you by the letter “p.”

By fretful end, both the intellectual and emotional, Magic makes its return to ease that troublesome finale. The question of that final hour? What will the mother of 5 do with the addition of another? I think I was so relieved everything worked out, I didn’t want to puzzle out that twist. Time travel is fairly exhausting.

As gifted as Barrows was at infusing this story with personality and plausible explanation, I was a bit disappointed by the summation: “Magic is just a way of setting things right.” Like Miri, I “didn’t really know what it meant, but it made [me] feel better” (191). Sure, it took wits and guts on Miri and Molly’s part throughout this adventure, but in the end, Magic was a necessary ingredient to make it all shine–for them and the novel. The Magic Half infuses a sense of sweetness and optimism into the otherwise dire hopelessness of both Miri’s and (especially) Molly’s lives. I suppose, sometimes big interventions do feel like magic. I know I wouldn’t mind a few magic lenses and a fairy grandmother.


recommendation: primarily girls, ages 8-12. The peril and the concepts may be too old for 6/7 crowd. The novel creates a nice intersection for lovers of either Historical, Mystery, Fantasy, and/or Science Fiction (however light). Is a reasonable precursor to the wondermous YA novel Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer.

of note: Both girls wear glasses (which is key to the plot) but neither sport them on this otherwise cute cover, which is disappointing. a quote that isn’t disappointing: “I think [ghosts are] more like echoes of people who aren’t there anymore.” […] “Grandma May said something like that once. […] She said that some places can hold on to the past. In some places, everything that ever happened there is still happening, but just an echo of it” (55).


*I asked Carl V. this; Sean and I have discussed this: “Is time-travel an element of sci-fi even in fantasy or hist fic? or is it a free-for-all?” Carl’s reply: “Hard core SF fans will argue about this, but I always consider it a sci-fi element.” and we kinda think it is, too. Chime in at will.


The Magic Half  by Annie Barrows : Bloomsbury, 2008. hardcover, 211 pages.

Annie Barrows is the author of the beloved Ivy+Bean series with illustrator Sophie Blackall, so I checked out Ms. Barrows’ solo middle grade novel effort from the Library. 

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

3 thoughts on “{book} the magic half

  1. “Time travel is fairly exhausting.” Agreed. Furthermore, whenever a time travel element is introduced into a story, I always sigh, even with books/movies/tv that I enjoy. Rarely does time travel ever succeed in accomplishing something marvelous, and stories often get ridiculous very quickly (NBC’s Heroes comes to mind). Unless a story is upfront about its time traveling (H.G. Wells), I always feel tricked and slightly angry.

    I’m with the general consensus. Time travel is sci-fi to me, regardless of the overarching genre. Though, thinking about it, I suppose there could definitely be a fantasy element, too, as long as the writers were adept. Consider Ocarina of Time, a Legend of Zelda game so obviously steeped in fantasy and magic that there, time travel is definitely of magical origins. Generally, though, I’d go with sci-fi here.

    1. sean is arguing that The Magic Half must be Fantasy, because the lack of mechanization, i.e. she uses a lens from glasses. but it *feels* more SciFi to me, in that a mechanism exists, a not natural occurring one (like a worm hole, etc). He likes your example of Zelda, and used it against me. 🙂

      I, too, am not big into time-travel (except Dr.Who, of course), but it does fascinate me–and thus, frustrates me, as well, when it gets ridiculous. If Palahniuk wasn’t such a gritty/disturbing writer, I would recommend Rant because of his different take: taking parallel univ, throwing in time-travel, and intersecting future parallel lines in the past to create havoc.

  2. hm, I never even thought about it before, but when I read this book I think I thought of it as fantasy. I never even thought about it. Reading your post I can see that it is science-fiction, too. I suppose I am with Sean in that it lacked mechanization, etc, so it never even occurred to me to consider it as anything else.

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