When I go out in public with friends I try to avoid book displays (notice key word: TRY). If I’m by myself with time to burn, I can be completely happy in a bookstore for hours on end. But when I’m with friends I try to stay away from the books because I really can’t resist their lure. Take this Monday, for instance. I went to the Goodwill thrift store with my roommate. There were books. I… wandered away.
And promptly found the remains of a sci-fi and fantasy collection from someone who was a teenager in 2002. I know this because I recognized some of my favorites and found some new-to-me reads. One dollar per book – you know how that ended. One of the ‘new’ books I found was Diana Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard.
Something stopped Nita's hand as it ran along the bookshelf. She looked and found that one of the books had a loose thread at the top of its spine. It was one of those So You Want to Be a…books, a series on careers. So You Want to Be a Pilot, and a Scientist…a Writer. But this one said, So You Want to Be a Wizard. I don't believe this, Nina thought. She shut the book and stood there holding it in her hand, confused, amazed, suspicious—and delighted. If it was a joke, it was a great one. If it wasn't…?
Nita, short for Juanita, is a smart, friendless thirteen year old who is just trying to escape daily bullying. One day, though, she encounters a book that may be an elaborate prank, but may also be her key to escaping abuse. Using the book will introduce her to a world she never could have imagined, unexpected friends and a seemingly impossible task to save the city she loves, New York.
This book was first published in 1983. The year I was born. A long, long time ago. Naturally, there are technological (and cultural) references that are no longer relevant. In that respect, the book reads like classic sci-fi – something akin to Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I can compare it to L’Engle without guilt because it’s also high-quality fantasy with an engaging protagonist and an interesting magical universe. I can't say much more without giving away things that should be kept unspoiled - so I'll stop.
Please don’t be dissuaded by the dated references – So You Want to Be a Wizard is a charming middle grade fantasy with an epic adventure, a brave heroine, and loyal friends. It’s about a girl beating adversity and finding her calling – oh, and saving the world. First-class fun.
Recommended for: fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Madeline L’Engle, those who enjoy magic-in-our-own-world fantasies, and devotees of enduring vintage middle grade literature.