Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.
A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.
Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.
I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.
“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”
Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.
Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.
“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”
Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.
Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.
The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.
What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.
Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.