A hapless boy becomes convinced that he will die on his 13th birthday in this middle-grade comedy.
Celebrating his 12th birthday with family and friends culminates in Stewart Snead’s face in the requisite cake. As far as Stewart is concerned, this is the start of his seemingly endless bad luck. He becomes accident-prone and a triskaidekaphobic (one who fears the number 13). In fact, Stewart is certain that his next birthday will be his final day on Earth. So he opts to save himself with the assistance of his friend Amanda, who apparently has nothing but good fortune. The two discover a book titled Spells for the Troubled Twelve-Year-Old, which contains an incantation for bypassing the 13th year. But the spellcasting predictably goes awry—for Stewart, at least. Amanda next enlists the help of Stewart’s pal Nicky, since he’s smart, though she may have her own agenda as she’s secretly crushing on him. Nicky suggests a curiosity-shop owner and “half herbalist, half sorcerer,” Mr. Hopfinger, but that encounter goes as poorly as expected. With his 13th birthday fast approaching, Stewart will have to find a solution quickly or say his goodbyes to the people he loves. Stimson’s (Dreams of a Summer Night, 2019, etc.) novella is full of humor and positivity in spite of Stewart’s perpetual dread. For example, Stewart’s generally ineffective good-luck charms include a cross and garlic, evidently to ward off vampires. There are surprisingly tender scenes as well, such as Stewart’s classmates standing up for him and, prior to his impending death, the protagonist ensuring that his parents know he loves them. The author’s gleefully brisk prose propels readers through 13 chapters and to a memorable ending, but Stimson’s illustrations are even more impactful. Her crisp artwork is sometimes comical (Amanda on the floor from a Nicky-induced round of nervous giggles) and, in other instances, serene (a landscape featuring Stewart and his father fishing on a lake).
An upbeat, often charming tale that overcomes the young protagonist’s defeatism.