Review: Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

Reason Cansino has always been taught to fear her grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason’s mother, Sarafina, has taken them all over Australia, mostly to remote Aboriginal settlements. Reason has only been to a real school once, but Sarafina has taught her lots of things; mostly math and some science.

Reason has been happy with her life, but when Sarafina goes crazy–really crazy, as in trying to kill herself instead of her usual craziness consisting of things like making them walk in straight lines for days–all of that comes to an end. Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda in Sydney. She’s expecting the dark, scary house of her mother’s stories. The one where Sarafina’s cat was murdered. The house where dark magic takes place–imaginary magic, of course, as Sarafina has always said that magic isn’t real. It’s too illogical.

What Reason finds, however, is a spacious, light house, not at all witchy. There are no animal sacrifices in the living room, no bubbling cauldrons in the kitchen. That can’t undo the belief that years of Sarafina’s stories have created, though. Reason is sure that something is going on underneath the surface, and she’s got to run away and get out of Sydney as soon as possible. She’s got to rescue Sarafina from the loony bin where she’s locked up.

Sydney’s not all bad, though; Reason meets Esmeralda’s neighbor, a boy about her age named Tom. She’ll be sorry to leave him behind, but it looks like he’s working with Esmeralda, and she’s got to get away from the witch.

Reason’s escape from Sydney doesn’t exactly go as planned. Instead of escaping with her mother and all of her supplies, Reason finds herself on a winter street in New York City, barefoot and with nothing, after stepping through Esmeralda’s back door.

She doesn’t know how she ended up there, but she’s grateful to Jay-Tee, the teenage girl who rescued her from the freezing, alien streets. She thinks that Jay-Tee is just a friendly passerby…But could there be more to it than that? What is going on? How did Reason step through a door from Sydney to New York? That’s just not possible. What secrets are being hidden from her?

MAGIC OR MADNESS is a wonderful novel from Justine Larbalestier, who’s married to one of my favorite authors of all time, Scott Westerfeld. It’s a fascinating story, and the way it’s told is a little unconventional: some chapters are told in a first person point of view, in Reason’s voice, and others are told in a third person limited POV, from inside either Jay-Tee’s or Tom’s mind. These three different points of view could be confusing, but Justine Larbalestier pulls it off wonderfully.

The story itself is quite a page turner. I first read this book when it first came out, and reread it after getting my own copy in paperback, and I loved it both times. The characters are all wonderfully realistic and interesting. Each answer Reason finds only leads to more questions, keeping suspense throughout the story. The writing is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, MAGIC’S CHILD, coming in 2007!

Rating: 9/10

**This review is also posted on TeensReadToo.com**