Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Release date: This UK edition 1st April 2012
Genre: Contemporary / Magical realism?!
Target audience: YA / Adult crossover
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
The Spell Book of Listen Taylor is a story about family, friendship and it’s full of the bizarre which is exactly what you expect from Jaclyn Moriarty. It defies convention. By which, I mean: this book is not at all what I think of as a young adult book. It felt like modern fiction for adults. But that does not mean that teens won’t enjoy it. Rather that it isn’t necessarily written for them. (That’s my thinking anyway).
The Spell Book of Listen Taylor has a cast of characters who are all larger than life. Listen is a quiet girl, who as her name suggests is not so much a talker but a listener, her life is changing. Her dad Nathanial has found love with Marbie – so they moved out of their camper into her house. Marbie is daft and has a lucky streak when it comes to near death experiences. She is one of the Zing family and they have a Secret. The story is told in third person past tense following Listen, Marbie Zing, her sister Fancy Zing, Cassie Zing (Fancy’s daughter) and Cassie’s teacher Cath Murphy. Their lives are all connected.
It is undoubtedly a complicated plot which is interwoven with Fancy’s stories of hot air balloons and their famous inventors. Then there is the spell book which Listen stumbles upon. The spells were utterly bonkers and full of humour. But there is tenderness and sadness in this book as Listen is rejected by her friends and becomes increasingly isolated. There is human drama too – Cath Murphy has an affair with the new Year 2 teacher.
One of the reasons I think this is an adult book is the fact that we follow adult viewpoints for a significant portion of the novel. We see into Fancy’s world of motherhood and being a writer of wilderness romance and her fantasies about the Canadian next door. We follow Cath in her part-time law degree and fluctuating feelings towards her lover. We see Marbie and her transgressions. All of the characters are entertaining. I love Jaclyn Moriarty’s use of exaggeration, of hyperbole and of the comical. I love her originality. I love that she weaves the spell book into the story and so at the end I didn’t know if it was really “magic”.
The Spell Book of Listen Taylor was a joy to read. The family secret was intriguing and a good surprise. The characters leap off the page with their bizarre notions and desires. The writing is as always is word perfect. Entertaining and endearing. Listen’s story broke my heart but the Zing family warmed it. Wonderful. Absurd. Brilliant.
Source: Review copy sent by Macmillan Children’s Books. Thank you.