I’m one of those people that often reads a celebrity-written book because I’d like to find one that defies the odds. How about you? Did you get over the wondering at a certain point? Or do you still give a new star-powered book a try?
Sadly, I don’t often find a celebrity book I can recommend. This time, though, I’m practically shouting: Read this book! It’s that good.
Neil Patrick Harris wrote The Magic Misfits. As president of the Academy of Magical Arts from 2011 to 2014, I suspected the “magic” might be more than a word for fantasy. It’s an integral part of this mystery, woven deftly into the story. What’s more, there are magic tricks after many of the chapters, providing step-by-step instructions and tips for making the illusions seem real. And Harris introduces the book by letting readers know there are codes and ciphers within the text. Pay attention!
Carter Locke is a young boy who loves magic … and he’s taught himself to be good with illusions. When he’s quite young his loving parents disappear, after which he goes to live with his uncle … who is a crook! Sylvester “Sly” Beaton is selfish and cruel. He demands that Carter act as his shill in confidence games. Carter learns all of Uncle Sly’s moves but Carter makes a firm rule that he will never steal. He has a strong compass for right and wrong. Life is intolerable with Sly and Carter runs away, without having any idea where he’s going.
Riding the rails, he ends up in Mineral Wells (There’s a MAP! I love maps.) where he meets Mr. Dante Vernon, which is a very lucky happenstance. Carter is introduced to five other young people his age, all of them practicing some form of magic. They are the Magic Misfits, the first friends of his young life.
Mineral Wells is currently caught up in the fervor over B.B. Bosso’s Carnival Spectacular. Tempting people with circus acts, sideshow oddities, and promises of prizes, Carter quickly realizes the show is all based on fakery. When Bosso invites him to be a part of the Spectacular because of his magic skills, Carter feels uncomfortable. He refuses. Carter and the Magic Misfits are determined to save Mineral Wells from Bosso’s spell. There’s a strong sense of danger in Harris’ story. He’s written a true page-turner.
I enjoyed the way the author speaks directly to the reader. From the beginning of Chapter Two:
“Surprise! It’s time for a flashback!
“I understand how frustrating it is to pause a story right in the middle of the action, but there are a few things you should know about Carter before I tell you what happens next. Things like: Who is this kid? And why was he running? And who is the man he was running from? I promise we’ll get back to Carter’s escape soon enough. And if we don’t, I’ll let you lock me up in a tight straitjacket with no key. Oh, the horror!”
The book reads like a movie: Lissy Marlin’s illustrations are peppered throughout, helping the reader visualize just enough. Her characters’ faces contribute depth to the story.
I hope this book wasn’t ghost-written. I want to know that Harris wrote the whole thing. I could hear his voice throughout the story, so I’m choosing to believe this is a celebrity-written book that far surpasses other star-powered efforts. It’s a solid middle-grade book. It’s charming, funny, compelling, and a testament to the power of friendship. And I can learn magic. Magic Misfits: The Second Story comes out in September 2018. I already have it on order.
Neil Patrick Harris
Little,Brown Books for Young Readers