Author: Peter Marino
Pub date: 2009, Holiday House
High School junior TJ is instantly attracted to a new transfer student who is unlike any of the boys she had ever met at her school. TJ is shy and quiet and suffers from extreme low self-esteem, but when she discovers they share the same birthday she takes a chance and speaks to the new boy, James. They hit it off right away and she thinks she may actually have a chance at a boyfriend, until he announces in class that he's gay. Although still attracted to him, TJ manages to put aside her romantic feelings and the two become best friends. There are some kids at school that are not as accepting and they bully James, calling him "pansy" and otherwise taunting him. Turning the tables on them, James calls himself "Pan" and fights the bullying with his intellect and sense of humor, until it goes too far and escalates into violence. On top of dealing with homophobic bullying, TJ and Pan also have to cope with changes to their relationship when TJ starts dating a quiet thoughtful football player.
Bullying and self-esteem are common issues in Peter Marino's novels and were dealt with in his first novel "Dough Boy" as well. In "Magic and Misery" the bullying is the secondary story, with the primary focus of the book the relationship between TJ and Pan. The dialogue between the two is the strongest part of the book. Their interactions are funny and real and Marino's writing flows in each scene with TJ and Pan. Compared to their relationship, TJ's romance with her boyfriend is less vivid and interesting. Caspar (the boyfriend) comes off as nice, but dull. The private moments between them are not as strong as with Pan. There were a few times when Marino told us what was going on, rather than showing us. Marino's writing greatly improved once the focus was back on TJ and Pan and it was clear how much fun he had writing the dialogue.
There's a side story about TJ's family and her baby brother Paolo. He communicates by screaming and shrieking, and while it's hinted that he had some kind of problem with his ears, it's never explained what's going on. It seems like the only reason it's in the book is to put TJ in awkward moments that Pan has to rescue her from because even the baby is infatuated with him. If that's the case it would have been better to just have a normal baby, because all babies have fussy times and cry at the worst moment possible, rather than play up his strange shrieking but not really go into the cause at all. But this is a minor quibble (and probably only really noticeable to me because I have a baby who likes to be loud).
Overall, the story is good, TJ is a sympathetic character, and Pan is a wonderfully written gay character. The book is just as much his story as it is TJ's. Readers looking for good positive portrayals of homosexual characters will enjoy this novel. There are sexual situations between TJ and her boyfriend that while not explicit, would not be appropriate for middle school students. But Junior High students would have no problems reading it.
Source: I received a copy of this book directly from the author. I was not compensated by him for this review and my opinions are purely my own.
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