An aspiring magician in Maryland must balance performing with caring for his baby brother, disabled due to brain damage, who’s based on Milliner’s son.
Eleven-year-old Ethan Miller loves magic. Having honed his tricks at birthday parties with his puckish 7-year-old brother, Freddy, as his assistant, Ethan’s determined to compete at Magic Fest in Atlantic City; the winner gets to meet his hero, Magnus the Magnificent! Unfortunately, getting his parents’ permission—and attention—is tough. Born with brain damage that’s left him unable to move or speak and prone to extreme internal temperature fluctuations, Ethan’s baby brother, Jake, almost 2, requires constant care. But when Jake falls seriously ill, Ethan learns that Jake is “the real magician in [his] family.” Though the author sympathetically acknowledges the stress of Jake’s condition and Ethan’s occasional feelings of neglect, the Millers’ love for one another radiates throughout Ethan’s witty, introspective narration. Jake is never a burden; his family members include him in fun activities and everyday life as best they can. However, there’s no question that Jake’s primary role in the plot is to inspire Ethan—a tired trope. Ethan’s Jewish faith inflects his story, from his observation of Yom Kippur to thought-provoking discussions of disability and God’s will. Some characters are stock, and some conflicts resolve via incredible coincidences—but, as Ethan notes, magic is “a mysterious, seemingly inexplicable” force, after all. As a fun finale, Ethan teaches five magic tricks. Most characters appear white; one of Ethan’s friends is East Asian.
A warm, hopeful debut. (Fiction. 8-12)