A toe-tapping fantasy novel mixes music and mystery.
Aficionados of middle-grade fantasy may find the premise recognizable: A parentless 12-year-old with unusual magical gifts is summoned to attend an elite boarding school in order to hone their craft. What makes this, YA author Khoury’s middle-grade debut, stand out is the focus on a special type of magic involving spells cast by playing musical instruments. After narrowly being accepted into Mystwick to study Musicraft with the most talented musicians in the world, Amelia Jones must prove that she has what it takes to perform musical spells and secure her spot at the school—or risk expulsion. Amelia struggles with difficult classes, mountains of homework, plus a roommate who hates her, and she quickly learns that someone—or something—seems to have it out for her. Staying at Mystwick will be more difficult than she ever imagined. Amelia’s only hope is the music she knows she is capable of creating, but she must find the courage and confidence to play it. Frenna’s lightly cartoony grayscale illustrations bring some of the pivotal scenes to life. Sparse physical descriptions paired with student names from a variety of cultures seem like a missed opportunity to describe ethnic and racial diversity explicitly; Amelia is white. Victoria, a guitarist who uses a wheelchair, is a featured secondary character.
A few missed notes don’t prevent this novel from delivering a satisfying story even if the tune is familiar. (Fantasy. 9-13)