All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Secret Science Of Magic by Melissa Keil

on May 16, 2017

The Secret Science Of Magic
Melissa Keil
Hardie Grant Egmont
2017, 314p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A captivating novel about two extraordinary teens, and the unsolvable problem of life after high school.

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

This is Aussie author Melissa Keil’s third novel and I’ve read both her previous and enjoyed them so buying this one was a no-brainer. I was really intrigued by the premise.

Sophia is an incredibly intelligent year 12 student but she struggles with interactions and social situations. She only really has one friend and there are a lot of things that seem to trigger anxiety. Sophia is at the age where high school is almost over and it’s time to make decisions about the future – what university to apply to, what course to do. Her friend intends to study overseas and seems to want to make sure that Sophia is going to be okay when she’s not around. But Sophia is fixated on Russian mathematician Gregori Perelman who declined to accept a famous award and is now a recluse. She seems to view him as a potential caution for child prodigies in a way, perhaps fearing that she may one day face the same fate if she doesn’t understand why he chose to turn his back on prizes and mathematics and drop off the face of the planet.

Joshua isn’t a genius and he’s interested more in history and magic than science and maths. But for years he’s had a crush on Sophia and admired her from afar. Timing is everything and Joshua has decided that now is the right moment. He’s going to show his hand, so to speak. But that’s going to be hard to do when you haven’t even really interacted.

On the surface, this book is very cute but there’s an awful lot of deep and clever stuff going on below that surface. Sophia is really very interesting – she’s incredibly smart, very advanced and can do things effortlessly that other students cripple themselves studying over. However, in order to push her out of her comfort zone slightly, she found herself talked into taking drama in order to perhaps get her to express herself or tap into some hidden feelings or emotions. She’s often accused of being quite emotionless, almost robotic and even her own brother says it’s weird she never cries. She struggles to even connect with and confide in her best friend and doesn’t even seem to notice that her best friend has some concerns and issues that she’d like to talk about. It’s not deliberate though and she spends a large amount of time trying to figure out her brother’s thoughts and perhaps discover the reason he seems to resent her so much and she’s very upset when she realises that she’s been hurting her best friend’s feelings. But there is no denying that Sophia doesn’t process things in quite the same way as others and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will connect with that, as well as with the demanding pressures of school, either by oneself or family.

I really liked the character of Joshua, for many reasons. I found the interest in magic a bit dorky, but an endearing sort of dorky and I loved the fact that although Joshua seemed perhaps a loner at school without any friends, away from school he had quite a developed social life and friendship circle. It’s a good way to stress that high school isn’t everything and that you don’t need to be popular there in order to be happy. Plenty of people find their tribe outside of the people they know merely through the circumstances of going to the same school and Joshua never seemed to particularly care about the fact that he didn’t have friends at school. He actually seemed quite comfortable in his own skin. He does face pressure from his father to choose a university course and there’s no doubt that he feels this but he doesn’t really seem to let it bother him too much. I liked his relationship with his sister as well and I thought that the little tricks and things he did in order to catch Sophia’s attention were quite cute. Although a lot of his crush was based before they had any real interaction, it deepened after he spent time with her and got to know her properly, quirks and all. In fact Joshua liked Sophia because of the way she was, her essential personality which was off putting to some people, was really engaging and appealing to him. He didn’t care about her blunt way of speaking, abruptness and sometimes awkwardness and he really admired her intelligence. And realising that she cared about Joshua didn’t change Sophia but she did grow throughout the book. She learned that she can fail and the world keeps turning.

I really enjoyed this and fans of Melissa Keil’s first novel will enjoy a little cameo appearance in this one. I know I did!


Book #88 of 2017

The Secret Science Of Magic is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017


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