Posted by uppervalleygirl
At the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival on May 18, Braintree author John Caruso’s textured novel Hard Magic received an Honorable Mention for Young Adult Fiction, in what organizers called “a very, very tough competition.” A dark yet sparkly mystery comprising multifaceted characters, dialogue among kids and adults that is neither corny nor precious, and rural issues—with clues, clues, and more clues — it is written with a deft hand requiring young readers to not only pay attention, but to look up the occasional vocabulary word. Hear, hear!
A story involving magic and teen sleuths begs comparison to other YA works, but important elements separate Hard Magic from the pack. First and foremost: superior writing. Caruso is a writer’s writer. He includes brilliant metaphoric turns of phrase, a nuanced tone, and observations about rural life that delight adult readers while rendering young readers just plain lucky to have him directing his writing, for the first time, their way. Second: it is expertly plotted (and sub-plotted), without overly descriptive passages to spoil a calculated pace that begins as lazily as a summer’s day, then barrels ahead in a race to the finish. Third, it has the intelligence to let the reader decide who’s good or bad, and why; it is more about exploring how the world works and who controls things than delivering a clichéd battle between good and evil. Fourth: it is poignant, with characters worth caring about. That’s because, Caruso says, he wanted in his book the emotional payoff of YA books he read as a young adult himself.
As for the title, one reader interpreted it this way: “Real change comes from hard magic, real work, not comic human hopes in the supernatural.” The characters must work for what they want; there is no magic fix, and the reader sees each making choices for thought-out reasons. Caruso’s teens are determined sleuths that use their smarts—they do not serendipitously stumble upon clues like my generation’s ever-lucky Nancy Drew. The players are complex people with good and bad qualities, and vulnerabilities. Even the most cutthroat among them displays wit, style, and heart.
With a generous mix of male and female characters that pop in and out, there are delectable hints at romance, but in this book the mystery’s the thing.
Hard Magic took the author two years to write plus one year of revisions, the key to excellence in writing. A natural born novelist, Caruso (a Vermont resident since 2001), refuses to “write down to” young readers, as he puts it. His style encourages them to ask, “What is really going on here?”; “What does that phrase mean?” and—which makes it a page turner—“What happens next?”
This tale set in Vermont has something summery for everyone: intrigue, family, fireworks, spells gone awry, cookouts, contraptions, junkyards, bewitched teachers, swimming holes, enchanted flora, evil fauna, magic potions, carnivals, Vermonty characters, word games, diabolical forces, weird behavior, and the long arm of the law. The magical parts are deliciously crafted. A passing reference to a possible physical or sexual assault renders it suitable for readers over age 13, depending upon the child and parents. Most importantly, the book fosters…reading. Imagine that.
Hard Magic is available at Bud and Bella’s Bookshop in Randolph, at The Yankee Bookshop and Shiretown Books in Woodstock, and online at createspace.com, amazon.com (print or Kindle), or barnesandnoble.com.