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*To Come and Go Like Magic* by Katie Pickard Fawcett- young readers book review
To Come and Go Like Magic
by Katie Pickard Fawcett
Ages 10-14 272 pages Knopf February 2010 Hardcover    

A quiet, thoughtful story set in the mountains of Kentucky in the 1970s, To Come and Go Like Magic is Katie Pickard Fawcettís first novel for middle grade children. Told in a series of relatively short vignettes, the first-person narrative is related by twelve-year-old Chili Mahoney from late winter to early fall, centering on her home community of Mercy Hill.

Chiliís home is filled to the brim with immediate and extended family members, each with his or her own unique story and all seen through Chiliís eyes - most notably her older sister, married, pregnant and abandoned by her deadbeat husband, and her cousin Lenny, who follows his own tune, desperately longing to become a dancer.

Each chapter reveals a different facet of Chiliís character, shaped through her observations of interactions between not only her family members but her best friends, whom she is growing away from; a very poor boy from her class, Willie Bright; and an elderly substitute teacher, Miss Matlock.

Throughout the story Chili longs to leave Mercy Hill to see the world. As the story develops, a number of metaphors (butterflies, birds, moths, etc.) express her desire to escape her everyday existence, yet at the same time Chiliís appreciation of home, family and friendships grows each season. The plot itself is carefully paced, with the major conflict revolving around the relationship of Miss Matlock to the poverty of Willie Brightís family. Secrets kept for many years surface, as relationships heal and characters make amends with their past.

Themes of poverty, self-respect, independence and social welfare are scattered throughout as Chiliís friends see themselves as separate from the Bright family, who live on welfare. Workers from a social service organization, VISTA, attempt to help the poor, yet sometimes make the situation worse as they strive to achieve a greater good. Eventually, secrets are revealed in the lives of people Chili loves, and the power of home balances with the courage needed to explore endless opportunities in the rest of the world.

The relatively slow, easy pace of this story will appeal to middle-grade girls who are ready to sit back and enjoy bits of life from another era. As each chapter unfolds, some mystery unfurls as we wonder why Miss Matlock has returned to Mercy Hill and her life is entwined with Willie Brightís, and why Chiliís sister is writing poetry about a piano player and her relationship to a visiting professor.

Themes of social class, the politics of poverty and wealth, friendship and family all connect through scenes from Chiliís life. Give this book to children who loved Phyllis Reynolds Naylorís Faith, Hope and Ivy June or Kimberly Willis Holtís My Louisiana Sky. Recommended for girls ages 10-14.

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  Kristine Wildner/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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