This YA novel stars a handicapped teen with special powers striving to make the most of his traumatic past.
High school student Benjamin Brown is new to Seattle. He escaped a turbulent home life near San Diego after his mother ran off and his alcoholic father crippled his leg. Now he lives alone, spending much of his time with his best friends, Maddy and Baffle, in Goodturn’s pawnshop. The teens witness the tiny, elderly Mr. Goodturn disarm and dismiss a robber without using violence. Goodturn reveals to Benjamin that he has a “knack” for slowing down time and another for manipulating people’s minds. Further, the older man knows that Benjamin has a knack, too. The boy can create illusions, and he uses playing cards to perform magic shows in parks. This earns him enough money to support himself and rent an apartment that’s decorated as if his mom lives there (her whereabouts are unknown). As Benjamin masters his knack—making new friends and enemies along the way—he and the tomboyish Maddy grow closer. Meanwhile, Baffle digs into Goodturn’s past only to find inconsistencies that force Ben to question his mentor’s intentions. Then there’s the eerie Miss Hoch, from Social Services, who’s been lingering like a spider in the corners of Benjamin’s life. Author Twitchel has conceived a hard-luck tale that would make YA scribe Jerry Spinelli swoon. He writes realistically likable—and loathsome—characters, and Ben narrates with a tough-as-nails voice he might have picked up reading pulp fiction magazines (Baffle has “a little angst, but what teen doesn’t have an account at that bank?”). Goodturn is an extraordinary creation, perfectly representing the ethical gray zone that many teens grow up protected from. He tells Ben that “to acquire wisdom a man must suffer, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.” And these characters do suffer—in brutal ways that mark this novel for older teens and adults looking for a page-turner in which the multitudinous plot threads never tangle. Twitchel’s cliffhanger perfectly lures readers toward the sequel.
A darkly polished superteen adventure.