The Magic Misfits, Middle Grade Bildungsroman/Coming of Age by Neil Patrick Harris
Series: The Magic Misfits #1
I wanted to adore this book and while I can’t say I was disappointed, I must confess that adoration was not attained. More than anything, it reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society, but for a different kind of kid. TMBS is for geniuses and The Magic Misfits is for performers.
This particular coming of age story is what I like to call The Nice One. A kid with no family or friends has an adventure and ends with both. Carter Locke is an orphan taken in by his Uncle Sly, a thief and con artist. The two live hand to mouth until Carter makes the mature life decision that he will never steal. He runs away with Uncle Sly on his heels, managing to escape by jumping onto a moving train.
This takes Carter to a new town, Mineral Wells. His first impression comes from B. B. Bosso’s Carnival. Rigged games and picked pockets feed Carter’s cynical view that magic is only something people use to trick and take advantage of others.
This starts to change when he meets Mr Vernon, and later Leila, Mr Vernon’s adopted daughter. Leila’s friends take Carter as one of their own, and together they discover and foil a plot using their favoured magical talents.
It’s a simple, predictable plot, which is not to its detriment. The stakes don’t need to be the fate of humanity. One possible flaw brought on by simplicity is that with a couple of exceptions, the characters are either archetypes, or simply a collection of traits that most readers will have seen before. However, anyone who likes the surly wheelchair-bound Smart One will probably still love Ridley. I did. One need not be surprised to enjoy oneself.
It was lovely to read a book for children with adults who were kind and capable. The children drive the action without the adults having to be idiots or inexplicably missing. The writing style is companionable and charming. The narrator is a storyteller type that addresses the reader directly. I’ve seen this cause comparison with Lemony Snicket, and I disagree. This is a different beast—the narrator is not implied to be a character. It seems far more likely to me that it was written that way as a (not uncommon) style choice and to make the non-story chapters with jokes and magic tricks fit better. Of course, I also read Choose Your Own Autobiography, so I would believe it if that was just NPH’s preferred writing voice.
I would definitely recommend this to someone who likes cartoons and movies. The action scenes are fun and highly visual. Both sides of performance (audience and performer) are wonderfully depicted, and it’s fun to see the characters enjoying a show and trading secrets.
In the realm of books written by actors, this is closer to Hollow Earth than Among the Ghosts. Most of my reason for the lower than expected rating is that I’m not really the audience for this book. I was a misfit as a kid, but not the performer type. I also had some misconceived expectations. Just from looking at the cover, I anticipated a more profound and mysterious villain rather than a straightforward carnie bad guy. However, there are two more planned books, and there is a hint of questions unanswered.