Aided by magic, 12-year-old Isabelle Perez learns that her nonverbal, severely disabled brother is capable of more than her family thinks.
Narrator Isabelle is determined that her older brother, Julian, who suffers from chronic seizures, will help her demonstrate her wind project at the school science fair. But everything changes after a severe seizure: Isabelle is welcomed into Las Brisas, a magical world Julian enters every night. There, Julian is physically perfect, but he reminds Isabelle that, even at home and disabled, he is still himself. In Las Brisas, the siblings share everything real life prohibits: visiting beautiful but inaccessible places, playing sports, and talking—especially about Julian’s condition and Isabelle’s realistic feelings of neglect. When Julian’s medication dampens his real-life pleasures, Isabelle must find a way to show her loving but fearful parents that nurturing Julian’s capabilities is as vital as controlling his seizures. Though Isabelle rejects the “brave nondisabled sibling” label and frequently reminds her family of Julian’s abilities, Julian nevertheless reads like a plot device. His family members—each characterized by a wacky quirk or “special gift”—ache and grow because of him. Isabelle’s promising visions of Julian’s future, courtesy of Las Brisas, hint at his possible development, but Julian in the present remains flat, merely reflecting Isabelle’s gift for “seeing possibilities.” Occasional Spanish words (selectively italicized) and Mexican food lend flavor to the family’s Mexican-American identity.
Though Jette’s debut emphasizes compromise, faith, and acceptance, the ill-explained “magical disability” trope muddles the message. (Fiction. 9-12)