In this debut fantasy, a boy who is bullied at school gains confidence and acceptance in magic camp.
Fifth-grader Ezekiel Raroso has magic in his blood. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know this, and when strange things happen around him—the disastrous eruption of his science project, for example—he starts thinking of himself as a weirdo. Ezekiel has a few friends at school, but for the most part, he is shunned and bullied. His loving family has never told him the truth about his past—not even when Ezekiel’s powers become too strong to cover up and he’s sent to magic camp. Camp Strange, as Ezekiel dubs it, is for Faerman children—what the outside world would call fairies. Ezekiel’s ignorance makes him an outsider here, too, at first; but his good nature allows him to make friends with other Fledglings (first-year campers), and he soon begins to enjoy himself. He even sprouts wings. Camp Strange, in fact, is the best thing ever. But there are sinister happenings behind the scenes: rumors that the Hematites (dark, wing-stealing Faerman) have returned. Will Ezekiel and his friends survive their first camp? Perez follows squarely in the footsteps of J.K. Rowling—from Ezekiel’s unmitigated bullying, dark legacy, and natural aptitude for both magic and flying to such facets as magical houses and cuisines and the camp’s bearded Magnus Magister. But Ezekiel is a less hotheaded 11-year-old than Harry Potter was. Ezekiel’s most prominent quality is his empathy, and this, more than anything, forms the crux of the book. He and his friends are distinct characters with their own idiosyncrasies. For all their excited companionship and adventures around the camp, though, what comes across most is their awareness of one another’s feelings. Although the novel has flaws—most notably a danger element put too easily out of mind, explored more as historical backstory than immediate threat—Ezekiel and the others are strong and likable enough characters to compensate. All told, middle-grade readers should approve.
A longish but high-spirited read with a powerful young hero.