#LoveOzYA Reviews: The Secret Science of Magic & Ballad For a Mad Girl

January 5, 2018 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

#LoveOzYA Reviews: The Secret Science of Magic & Ballad For a Mad GirlThe Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil
Published by Hardie Grant Egmont on April 1st 2017
Source: Publisher
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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A captivating novel about two extraordinary teens, and the unsolvable problem of life after high school.

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

From Melissa Keil, the award-winning YA author of Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

What does a teenage genius and a guy who loves magic tricks have in common? In The Secret Science of Magic, both Sophia and Joshua don’t have a clue what they want to do once they finish high school.

I haven’t read a book featuring a genius with an eidetic memory before, particularly in a contemporary high school setting. While she’s clearly intelligent, reading research papers and obviously miles ahead of her peers, she just has one problem: she has no idea what she wants to do with her intellect. Her fear of failure, of talent wasting away is projected through crippling anxiety which results in inaction.

While I’m certainly not a genius, I found her fear of failure to be quite relatable and human, particularly her anxieties when it comes to fitting in, or being what people expect of you. I also thought her social anxiety and lack of social skills to be characteristic of someone on the autism spectrum, and it was surprising that this wasn’t really brought up or addressed by the people around her at all.

Joshua on the other hand, has had a massive crush on Sophia for many years and he constantly plans how to get to know her. His ambitions lie in playing video games and doing magic tricks, which he doesn’t think will amount to anything in the future. The thought of moving into university and figuring out what to do in the future is also terrifying for Josh, so he preoccupies himself with his crush on Sophia. It kind of borders on obsession and placing her on a pedestal but despite that, I found the progession of their relationship to be quite natural.

With Sophia’s struggling with anxiety and disconnect from the people around her, with Josh and his fixation on Sophia, there’s definitely enough in The Secret Science of Magic to keep it moving. I liked the diversity, from selective mutism to social anxiety and autism being explored. Sophia is also Sri Lankan Australian, which I thought was fantastic. Her and Josh’s parents were surprisingly absent though.

The only thing I was disappointed in is that there isn’t that much science or magic in the book, despite being the key driver as mentioned in the blurb. Aside from plenty of name dropping and repetitive gripes about David Copperfield, I wish there was more of the magic that Joshua was interested in and the science and facts beyond names of theories and prominent people.

There’s also this heavy “not like other girls” vibe which I found kind of annoying at some parts, particularly when illustrating Sophia as a character against others. She definitely had enough differentiators of her own without resorting to this path.

The Secret Science of Magic is an important #LoveOzYA read that explores selective mutism, social anxiety and being on the autism spectrum. With its focus on finding yourself, embracing what makes you unique and the connection between two very unlikely teenagers, this was a wonderful story with an important message behind it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for sending me a review copy, in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Science of Magic is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99.

#LoveOzYA Reviews: The Secret Science of Magic & Ballad For a Mad GirlBallad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield
Published by Text Publishing on May 29th 2017
Source: Publisher
Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Horror
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Booktopia
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Everyone knows seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a bit mad. She’s a prankster and a risk-taker, and she’s not afraid of anything—except losing. As part of the long-running feud between two local schools in Swanston, Grace accepts a challenge to walk the pipe.

That night she experiences something she can’t explain. The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore. She’s haunted by voices and visions—but nobody believes a girl who cries wolf.

As she’s drawn deeper into a twenty-year-old mystery surrounding missing girl Hannah Holt, the thin veil between this world and the next begins to slip. She can no longer tell what’s real or imagined—all she knows is the ghosts of Swanston, including that of her own mother, are restless. It seems one of them has granted her an extraordinary gift at a terrible price.

Everything about her is changing—her body, her thoughts, even her actions seem to belong to a stranger. Grace is losing herself, and her friends don’t understand. Is she moving closer to the truth? Or is she heading for madness?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a truly creepy book, but Ballad for a Mad Girl definitely satisfied when it came to the horror moments – a girl covered in blood, creepy visions, hauntings and an unreliable narrator.

Grace is still trying to cope with the death of her mother, but in the process, she fixates herself on a murder mystery that happened to a teenage girl 20 years ago. From the start, it’s pretty obvious that she’s already lost her grip on reality – she sees and hears things that aren’t there which has begun to creep into her everyday life. Her friends and family are concerned about her and the relationship with her friendship group is already waning as they’ve distanced themselves from her.

Her perspective as an unreliable narrator is crucial to the story – crows would start dying, her dog would attack her, and she’d be talking to someone or seeing things that aren’t really there. It almost feels as if we are experiencing things from Grace’s perspective, as we aren’t really told what is real or imagined and it is simply her version of reality. Because of this, the book can be quite confusing, particularly since we aren’t told whether Grace was schizophrenic, whether she was being possessed or she was simply seeing things or making them up.

On top of all of this, Grace is dealing with the loss of her mother and she doesn’t know how to get the help she needs. Instead, she fixates on the murder of Hannah Holt and finding the truth behind her death. The relationship with her father is strained and she can no longer relate to her friendship group, who have no idea how to help her. You don’t really blame them, because Grace isn’t really the warmest of people. There’s an eerie, disconnected feeling with Grace’s perspective and how she continued to lose her grip on reality which added to the horror of the story.

While I was really interested in what happened to Hannah Holt and her mother, I felt like the ending was too open-ended and I didn’t get a sense of closure from the story. I really wanted to know what Grace was actually experiencing and her therapist was no help.

If you’re looking for a creepy Aussie psychological thriller to add to your TBR, Ballad for a Mad Girl should definitely be on your list. It captures the feeling of a small town perfectly, along with a murder mystery, a mental health disorder and Carrie-like horror scenes.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Thanks to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy! 

Ballad for a Mad Girl is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99.

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Jeann is an Aussie blogger, gamer, reader who loves to read, write, fangirl, geek out and eat food. You can find me glued to one of my many mobile devices 24/7, or fangirling over the latest YA book, TV show, movie or game. Chat with me on Twitter @happyindulgence

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16 responses to “#LoveOzYA Reviews: The Secret Science of Magic & Ballad For a Mad Girl

  1. I loved both of these Jeann, Ballad For A Mad Girl even more so but I can certainly see the issues with both. I would have loved to have seen more of the maths and magical aspects in The Secret Science of Magic too, I think it would have helped with character development as well, for readers to feel that sense of who they both were. I didn’t actually pick up on the autistic traits of Sophia, I just assumed it was her anxiety but now that you mention it. I’m sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed these more Jeann but wonderful reviews and hope your next read knocks your socks off <3

  2. I’ve always been interested in the Secret Science of Magic but I’m kind of iffy on the autism rep. I think I’ll look out more for #ownvoices authors for this!

    Ballad for a Mad Girl seems very very creepy despite the cute cover. (Haha, I love Toby’s face in the book pic!) I’m not a hugeee fan of psychological books, but this one sounds interesting!

    Lovely reviews Jeann. Yayy #LoveOZYA titles!
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  3. Jo

    Your review really makes me wanna read ‘The secret science of magic’. Fear of failure is one of my biggest weaknesses, maybe this book would give me a wider perspective, I’m quite intrigued!

  4. Melissa Keil is one of those authors who books sound so good and who I really want to read and just haven’t gotten around to yet. Hopefully I can grab one of her books soon.

    I have read Ballad for a Mad Girl. It was so creepy! But I loved it/ It was an awesome read and I glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the reviews 🙂

  5. Ahh, the mixed reviews for The Secret Science of Magic are really making it difficult for me to decide whether I want to chance it or not! I love that it is so diverse but the lack of science+magic is off-putting 🙁 And I completely agree that the open ending in Ballad for a Mad Girl was hella unsatisfying.

  6. I have Ballad for a Mad Girl on my Kindle and I didn’t realize how creepy and unreliable it is. I am super excited to check it out now! Great review!

  7. The Secret Science of Magic sounds so interesting the way the blurb described it, but I think I’ll be pretty disappointed in the lack of those two things. 🙁 I actually think the obsession-type romance is applicable if the heroine is THAT much of a special snowflake. Not sure if this is my cup of tea, but I’ll keep an eye out.

    Awesome reviews, Jeann!
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    • I know, I kind of expected more out of it I guess? She is a bit of a special snowflake but it was written really well, cos she’s kind of genius level but socially awkward. Thanks Aimee! <3