by Margaret Mahy

A recurring nightmare has plagued Roland since childhood. In the dream, he is chosen... read more

A recurring nightmare has plagued Roland since childhood. In the dream, he is chosen by Quando, a carnival magician, to participate in a vanishing box trick. Inside a menacingly coffin-life box, Young Roland disappears when the lid is closed, finding himself suspended in space, stars in the distance. When the lid is opened, Roland faces the magician’s sly questions about what he experienced. A small interior voice warns him to be wary of the magician, and Roland denies that anything extraordinary has occurred. Flash forward and Roland is 17, with the kind of existence that most teens would envy: he’s popular, gets good grades, and has an attractive girlfriend. But then his life takes a precipitous turn as he discovers that the encounter with the magician was in fact an actual event, and that Quando has reappeared in town. Meanwhile, a teacher blackmails Roland into befriending Jess, a reclusive girl in his class who has spent her school years unnoticed by her peers, except to serve as the recipient of their teasing. Roland discovers that Jess is much more than she seems on the surface, and he finds himself reluctantly attracted to her intelligence and mysterious behavior. The two form a coalition against the sinister forces that threaten them, and a classic battle between good and evil ensues. Alchemy—the process of transforming one thing into another—is explored at many levels throughout this finely written literary suspense novel. Ultimately, Roland and Jess unleash their own unique power, fueled by strong emotions of love and hate. New Zealand author Margaret Mahy delivers yet another multilayered work for teens, which both demands from and delivers to its readers. (Ages 13–16)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2004

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