A young would-be magician gets lessons in both stagecraft and life from a crusty elder.
Fifth-grader Robbie Darko is horrified to learn that he’ll be giving up his room to terrifying, old Grandma Melvyn while she waits for a knee operation. Discovering that she had been a renowned magician in her early days, though, he sees opportunity. He earns her respect and enlists her help with his act for the upcoming school talent show by gradually learning how to stand up to her harsh tongue and temper. What she teaches him are not new tricks but deeper principles, from “Your job is to make [audiences] believe impossible things” to the values of relentless preparation and of flexibility when things go wrong. These initially seem disappointingly abstract but stand him in good stead both for the show and for when Grandma Melvyn takes another, final trip to the hospital. The author creates a sympathetic cast, but Robbie’s habit of refusing to describe his tricks while overexplaining everything else in his life may leave readers wanting to know less about him and more about Grandma Melvyn and his best friend Cat, a classmate with a real gift for connecting with people.
Beaty slips in some important stuff here, but the supporting characters steal the show. (Fiction. 10-12)