The Magic Nation Thing

The Magic Nation Thing

3.5 4
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Abby O’Malley is a girl who likes things to make sense. School makes sense, and her best friend Paige makes sense (most of the time), but Abby’s flighty mother never makes sense. Abby’s mom seems to think that she and Abby are descended from a line of witches, and that they have special powers—psychic powers that don’t make

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Abby O’Malley is a girl who likes things to make sense. School makes sense, and her best friend Paige makes sense (most of the time), but Abby’s flighty mother never makes sense. Abby’s mom seems to think that she and Abby are descended from a line of witches, and that they have special powers—psychic powers that don’t make sense at all. The problem is, Abby knows that she can do certain things that other people can’t. Sometimes, when she holds an object in her hand, she’s overpowered by sounds and pictures that show where the owner is and what he or she is doing. Abby thinks of this as her “magic nation,” because that is what her kindergarten teacher told her it was called. Now 11, Abby has an inkling that her teacher may have been saying it was her “imagination,” which unfortunately, she knows it is not. Now some things are happening in her mother’s detective agency—cases where Abby’s magic nation thing might come in handy. But does Abby want to admit that such a sensible girl could have such an unsensible power?

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Abby O'Malley does not think her twelve-year-old life could be any more complicated. Being the daughter of a female private investigator is exciting and confusing all at the same time. Exciting because there are not many female private investigators and Abby enjoys the thrill of a successful case. It is confusing because she has a special "gift" that results in her solving some of those cases, but does not want to admit it. Abby, it seems has "inherited" an ancestral knack of being able to read minds, find missing objects and other weird things. She just is not sure she can accept that. Abby's best friend, Paige, feels otherwise and encourages her to use her gift to solve mysteries—no matter how insignificant, but realizes it only works on "important things" such as rescuing Paige's brother and solving criminal cases. No magical hocus pocus or wizardry is involved—just pre-teen fasciation with psychic ability as long as it is beneficial. Snyder proves herself to be an excellent storyteller, and develops a relatively diverse cast of characters with realism and creativity. The chapters flow effortlessly and engagingly with hardly a dull moment. Pre-teen girls will relate to the emotions and concerns of Abby and Paige's friendship, home lives and the very real energies of school, which makes for entertaining reading. 2005, Delacorte Press, Ages 9 to 12.
—Elizabeth Young
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-As a little child, Abby O'Malley always assumed that her psychic ability was all her "magic nation" (a misheard version of the word "imagination"). Now 12 years old, she knows that her talent makes her the one thing that she doesn't want to be: peculiar. She doesn't mention her ability to anyone, either. Not to her divorced mother, trying desperately to run her own San Francisco detective agency. Not to her friend Paige, who would just use Abby's talent to her own ends. Abby is content to hide her true self away, until she accidentally gets tangled up in a couple of her mom's cases and reveals herself without meaning to. Snyder's characters appear on these pages as fully thought out, three-dimensional people. Abby's desire to be like everyone else is utterly understandable and Paige is simultaneously manic and likable. However, the ending is far-fetched and comes out of left field as Abby's divorced parents spontaneously, and with little reason, end up together once more. An additional purchase to the many books that examine the connections between magic and day-to-day life.-Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve-year-old Abby O'Malley does not want to be a private detective like her mother. She just wants to be normal, have a normal family and perhaps be a gold-medalist skier. Abby resists sleuth work partly due to her decidedly abnormal knack for it-a mysterious psychic ability that has helped crack real-life cases. (When Abby was younger, these visions were deemed "just her imagination" by a teacher, or, as she heard it, her "Magic Nation.") When Abby tells her best friend Paige about her powers, Paige is anxious to capitalize upon them, digging up mysteries to solve and, unfortunately, treating Abby as something of a circus monkey. It's disappointing that by the end Paige still doesn't understand how insensitive she is in exploiting Abby's abilities. Still, readers will find plenty to relate to here: a close, oft-stormy preteen friendship; Abby's wish to reunite her divorced parents; Paige's obnoxious-but-not-irredeemable brothers; ski-trip antics and flirtations; and, of course, the excitement of detective work. While the themes are often belabored, this remains a lively, engaging read. (Fiction. 9-12)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.09(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.46(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Not long after Abigail O'Malley helped solve the Moorehead kidnapping case, a problem she'd had all her life took a definite turn for the worse. It was a personal and very secret problem that she'd never shared with anyone, not even Paige Borden, who was her best and closest friend. So embarrassingly personal, in fact, that she had never allowed herself to believe that it actually existed, at least not for sure.

Abby was twelve and a half years old when the kidnapping occurred, and in the seven years since her mother, Dorcas O'Malley, had become a private investigator, Abby had never gotten involved in any of her cases. At least not on purpose. And she had no plans to do so in the future. She had, in fact, made her feelings on the subject quite clear in an essay she'd written only a few days before Dorcas started work on the Moorehead case.

The essay was for Ms. Eldridge's seventh-grade language arts class, its title was to be "My Future Career," and it was supposed to be at least two pages long. Most of the class groaned when Ms. Eldridge gave the assignment. "Two whole pages on what you're planning to be someday? What if you haven't made up your mind?" Paige whispered.

"I thought you had," Abby whispered back, grinning. "You know. About being a movie star or a fortune-teller?"

"Don't laugh." Paige frowned. "I meant it."

Abby made her nod say "I know you did" and went back to her own list of career choices. Once she'd started, she found it wasn't so difficult after all. For one thing, she'd always been a list maker, so coming up with one of future careers was an interesting challenge. There were, she discovered, quite a few things she might want to do as an adult. But nowhere in the list was there one word about being a private investigator.

Abby's essay was going to say that her first and most important goal was to be a gold medalist in the Winter Olympics. After that, a career as either a ski instructor or a lawyer, like her father. Along with getting married and raising a big normal family (important word underlined). No mention of detective work.
The career choices were fairly recent, but the family thing Abby had always planned on, especially the normal part. Over the years she had changed her mind several times about future careers, starting with cowgirl when she was in kindergarten, and librarian when she began to love reading and was under the mistaken impression that all librarians had to do was sit around reading all day.

But being a private investigator had never been one of her choices. Not ever, in spite of the fact that she was the daughter of Dorcas O'Malley, who, according to Tree, was one of the best detectives in California. Or at least in northern California, where there were fewer crimes but the ones that did happen tended to be more original. That was what Tree said anyway, but then, Tree (short for Teresa Torrelli) was Dorcas's employee, and under the circumstances she'd probably felt it was the tactful thing to say.

But Abby had her own ideas about the O'Malley Detective Agency—ideas that were based on a lot more inside information. After all, Tree had been working for the agency only a couple of years, but it had been a big part of Abby's life ever since she started kindergarten. Which coincidentally was the same year her father had moved to Los Angeles and her parents got a divorce.

Before Abby's father, Martin O'Malley, moved away, the whole family, Abby and Dorcas and Martin, had lived in a great house in the Marina. But after the divorce they had to sell the house Abby had lived in since she was a baby so that Martin could pay for his apartment in Los Angeles and Dorcas could start the agency. Someone else owned the Marina house now, but Abby could still draw accurate floor plans of every room. And she still liked to look at it as they drove by and try to remember what living there had been like. Not that driving by happened all that often anymore. Not since Dorcas decided that mourning over a house wasn't a normal thing to do. Perhaps not, but to Abby's way of thinking, she'd lost a lot of other normal things right about then, and if drawing pictures of a normal house helped, she didn't see what was wrong with doing it.

After the divorce the O'Malley Detective Agency had set up shop in the two front rooms of a small shabby Victorian, and Dorcas and Abby moved into what was left over. Abby hadn't been quite six years old at the time, but she wasn't likely to forget how she'd had to practically live at Mrs. Watson's Day Care Center because of Dorcas's strange work hours. And how Dorcas had to worry all the time, not only about not getting enough clients, but also about things such as termites and leaky plumbing and unpaid bills. And Abby had to go without all kinds of things that most of the girls at her school got from their parents without even asking.

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