To Come and Go Like Magic

To Come and Go Like Magic

5.0 1
by Katie Pickard Fawcett

View All Available Formats & Editions

Twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney has never been outside of her small Appalachian town. Momma says Mercy Hill, Kentucky, is her “true home,” but Chili longs to see the world—to have the freedom to leave and to explore.

So when Miss Matlock is brought in as the 7th grade substitute teacher, Chili and her classmate Willie Bright are thrilled.


Twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney has never been outside of her small Appalachian town. Momma says Mercy Hill, Kentucky, is her “true home,” but Chili longs to see the world—to have the freedom to leave and to explore.

So when Miss Matlock is brought in as the 7th grade substitute teacher, Chili and her classmate Willie Bright are thrilled. Everyone knows Miss Matlock has traveled around the globe. Why she’s come back to her childhood home after all this time is a mystery, but Chili and Willie are eager to befriend her despite the rumors. As the three spend time together, Chili learns about the jungles and deserts and cities of the world. But she also discovers that there’s more to Mercy Hill than she thought: beauty, in the people and places she’s known all her life, and secrets, sometimes where they’re least expected.

Told in vignettes and set in 1970s Appalachia, To Come and Go Like Magic is a heartwarming and hopeful debut novel about family, friendship, and the meaning of home.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Told in beautifully crafted vignettes, Fawcett's debut is a story of smalltown Appalachian life in the 1970s and finding the courage to leave home. Twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney feels suffocated by her one-road hometown of Mercy Hill, Ky., living alongside mountain people, VISTA workers, and “welfares.” Adding to her claustrophobia: her pregnant sister, Myra, and her Uncle Lu, whose mind “comes and goes like the wind,” have moved in after being left by their spouses. Reading is Chili's main escape until a substitute teacher, Miss Matlock, fills her mind with visions of world travel. The more time Chili spends with Miss Matlock (a stark contrast to time spent with her pragmatic family and her destitute friend, Willie), the more Chili yearns to be someone else, living somewhere else. Chili's first-person narrative stretches from poetic thoughts (“I wish the black night could alight like a moth and carry me away on its silent wings”) to more down-to-earth observations. Her insights are absorbing and her setbacks heartbreaking, as she weighs the only home she's ever known against the possibilities that loom farther afield. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Thirteen-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney lives with her parents and brother in the hills of Kentucky. Within months, her married and pregnant sister moves back home, an orphaned cousin comes to stay, and an old uncle takes up residence in the attic. The little house is full to overflowing, and Chili dreams of far-flung adventures. But in 1975, folks don't leave Mercy Hill. While they may disparage their more poverty-ridden neighbors, at least the "welfares" can be trusted more than those citified Northerners. Even old Miss Matlock, who left when she was young and eventually came back, is viewed with suspicion as an outsider. Chili, however, is thrilled when the teacher is assigned to her seventh-grade classroom: finally, she can learn from someone who has seen the world. Miss Matlock's accounts of her travels open up new possibilities for her, but as the teen discovers more about the woman's early life, she has to question whether her actions were truly courageous or remarkably self-centered. Chili is a likable protagonist, and her descriptions of family and friends make them fully realized characters in their own right. The glimpses into seemingly mundane events allow readers to realize how much she has grown in her relationships. Give this appealing novel to those who enjoy the poignancy and lyricism in Barbara O'Connor's or Deborah Wiles's work.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Fawcett's debut novel follows several months in the life of 12-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney, who longs for adventure beyond the bounds of early-1970s Mercy Hill, Ky., where the options are limited indeed. Chili's pregnant older sister has moved back home following the desertion and apparent suicide of her husband. Her cousin and uncle also seek refuge, and a local "welfare" (the word used as both a noun and an insult) starts to treat her like a friend. Rumor has it that her elderly teacher, Miss Matlock, has traveled the world. In the hands of a more seasoned novelist this would be plenty of fodder for a rousing plot, but this tale, told in pretty, limpid vignettes, lacks life, depth and, most importantly, heart. Despite external action, Chili seems to be merely an observer: Nothing changes her soul. And the big revelations-about the father of Chili's sister's baby and about Miss Matlock's past-fall flat when they seem to carry no consequences. Alas-little magic here. (Historical fiction. 10-13)
VOYA - Karen Jensen
Set in the 1970s Appalachia, this story follows twelve-year-old Chili (Chileda) Sue Mahoney who lives in Mercy Hill, Kentucky. Poverty and tradition are the rule of the land, but Chili has a deep-seated longing for freedom and world exploration. Miss Matlock is brought in as a substitute teacher—she has traveled the globe and returned to share her stories of adventure. As Chili and her friend Willie learn about the jungles and other far-off places, they also learn more about themselves and the town in which they live. Each story is a little vignette about volcanoes, going to Mexico, being different, and more. It is a melancholy story with a voice of wanting—Chili wants nothing more than to be free like the butterflies of Mexico who can come and go like magic. Through the changes that occur, Chili comes to realize that people are not always what they seem and that even if she left Mercy Hill, it will always be a part of her because it is her home. The longing and despair hang in the air of every page, but there is also hope and quaint tales to amuse. It may be a hard sell, but it is a rich exploration in language, imagery, and storytelling. Reviewer: Karen Jensen
Children's Literature - Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
Chili Sue Mahoney is actually named Chileda, but her father does not much like the name so she becomes Chili. She often wonders what it would be like to be somebody else, to have a name like Elizabeth. And she wonders even more often what it would be like to live somewhere else, somewhere away from Mercy Hill. Her momma says "People don't leave Mercy Hill," but Chili longs to go beyond the town and see the world. Miss Matlock becomes Chili's substitute teacher, representing all that lies beyond the town and its inhabitants. Miss Matlock did leave Mercy Hill, did travel the world, and did have all the adventures Chili dreams of. Chili and her friend Willie Bright spend more and more time with Miss Matlock, causing comment among the townspeople and suspicion in Chili's father. When Willie's grandmother dies, Chili learns life is not as simple as she thought and that there is much truth in what her mother said. The book is written in short passages that are engaging and easy to read. A lively story that will appeal to a variety of readers. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

And the stars keep on moving--
no one can tie them to one place.

        --Charles Wright, Appalachia

*Leaving . . .

Momma's ironing on the sunporch when I break the news.

"Someday I'll leave this place," I say. The glider creaks when I give it a push.

"Where you going?" She looks at me with about as much concern as if I'd told her I was going to Brock's store for a Coke.

"Not sure," I say, putting my eyes on my painted toenails. Aunt Rose spent the weekend with us and polished my nails Hot Geranium to match hers. I imagine these red toes walking down some wide tree-lined boulevard in a faraway city. The where is not important. I've never been anyplace but here. How can I have a where?

"People don't leave Mercy Hill," Momma says, laughing her you don't know what you're talking about laugh as she swipes the iron across Pop's white shirt, giving it a lick and a promise.

"Why not?"

She shakes her head. "Grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence," she says, sliding the hot iron carefully around each button.

"I don't care," I say. "I want to see what it looks like, see if it feels the same and smells the same someplace else." I'm thinking fresh smells, like perfume and new-car vinyl and strange food scents in a city full of fancy restaurants. Not like here. Not like Mercy Hill's coal smoke and sawdust and fields of cow manure fertilizing the corn. Momma's eyebrows arch the way they do when she's trying to fill in spaces with her black Maybelline pencil. "Grass is grass," she says. "One side of the fence is as green as the other."

Momma does not understand that the color of grass has nothing to do with it, that all the fences in the world separating here from there have nothing to do with it. Leaving is all that matters.

Outside these plastic porch windows the winter sun is white-hot and the bare maples and elms shudder in the slapping wind. Dried-up honeysuckle vines twist and dip along the fence top, barely hanging on to life. In the spring Pop will take off the scratched-up plastic windows and slip in screens, but today the backyard is a blur. It's like looking through water or into a dream world from some other place and time.

*Then and Now . . .

A year ago life was hunky-dory, as my aunt Rose says. A year ago we were the right size for this house. Momma; Pop; my brother, Jack; and me. Three bedrooms, two porches, and a dusty attic full of junk. A year ago my sister, Myra, was married to Jerry Wilson and lived in Jellico Springs. Uncle Lucius lived on Sycamore Street with his young redheaded wife, Gretchen. A floozie from way back is the way Pop describes her. With Uncle Lu going on seventy and her not even fifty, Momma says things were bound to happen the way they did.

The whole world can change in a year.

One morning Uncle Lucius woke up and found Gretchen gone. She'd run off with a traveling vacuum-cleaner salesman named Vernon Wright. Uncle Lu still laughs sometimes and says, I guess I was Mister Wrong. Then he goes out back under the sour-cherry tree and throws up.

Uncle Lu didn't want to sleep at his own house anymore, so Pop and Jack set up an old, wobbly bed frame in our attic, and Momma bought a cardboard chest of drawers at the Kmart in Jellico Springs and put yellow curtains on the tiny window. From that attic window, with Jack's binoculars, I used to watch redbirds sitting in the bare winter trees along the riverbank. Now the attic's off-limits. My uncle has to have his private space to moan and stomp and talk to himself, shaking my ceiling so much the overhead light fixture jiggles with last summer's dead bugs in it.

If the changes had stopped with Uncle Lucius, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad. But next came what Jack calls the aftershock. My sister, Myra, showed up at the front door with a suitcase, saying Jerry Wilson had run off, too, and she had a baby on the way. All this news, the good and the bad, spilled out in one long breath. Myra couldn't bear to sleep alone in her house either, so she moved in with me. Now she and her round belly with the baby-to-be take up most of the double bed, and every night I hang on to the edge, afraid to move. If I kick in my sleep and hurt the baby, it could end up loony or something.

Pop says everything will work out in its own time, but he spends his own time working at the hardware store away from it all. Three days a week Momma sells dresses at Donna's Dress Shop, and Jack practically lives at the ball fields--football, baseball, track. Any field will do. Meanwhile, I get to listen to Myra cry and my uncle curse the dogs. Our two dogs, Old Tate and Foxy Lady, live in a chain-link pen with identical white doghouses. Uncle Lu says those dogs are better off than he is.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

KATIE PICKARD FAWCETT grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky and spent two years as a social worker in Appalachia. She has counseled and tutored students in the Washington, D.C. area, written ads for Peace Corps and VISTA, and worked for the World Bank writing about development projects in Third World countries. Her personal essays have been published in several magazines, and her favorite diversion is travel and the different cultural experiences it brings. She lives with her husband and son in McLean, Virginia.  Visit her on the Web at

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

To Come and Go Like Magic 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
CFKY More than 1 year ago
I am definitely not a young adult, but I was thoroughly engaged in Fawcett's To Come and Go Like Magic. This novel won the 2011 Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award, given by Western Kentucky University Libraries. Fawcett selects her descriptive words carefully and wastes not. Her succinct yet lingering narrative portrays life in Appalachia in her own distinct style but akin to that of Silas House and Barbara Kingsolver. The plot development and interweaving of the lives of several key characters is realistic and not overly done. I look forward to more of her work and influence on young adult (and older adults) "must read" lists. Highly recommended