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The Secret of Magic

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  2,162 ratings  ·  364 reviews
Winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

"If you liked The Help, you'll love this one!"

In a novel that “brings authentic history to light,”* a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible in 1946: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South.

Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the
Paperback, 416 pages
Published January 6th 2015 by Berkley (first published January 1st 2014)
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Maggie B I think it would be dependent on their maturity level and parental ok. It’s a fairly long book. There is some cursing in it including GD, the F word,…moreI think it would be dependent on their maturity level and parental ok. It’s a fairly long book. There is some cursing in it including GD, the F word, and the N word and violence, although not extremely graphic except for one part towards the end (chapter 19 if you wanted to skim it) and even then it’s more gross than graphic. Also, one male character grabs a female character’s breast at one point. The author does a good job of getting the idea for all of these things across without sensationalizing it. Honestly, if I were you, I would read it first and then decide based on what you know about your kids.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Irene I honestly really liked the book (and wished I knew more books about the subject). It is not a typical book as it is a mystery detective kind of book,…moreI honestly really liked the book (and wished I knew more books about the subject). It is not a typical book as it is a mystery detective kind of book, and halfway in the story you find out everyone already knows the answer. Most of the book is about how everyone in the story deals with the truth. I'd say that if you are interested in stories about the segregation in the south of the USA in the past it is a good read, if that is not your cup of tea, then I wouldn't recommend it. (less)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,162 ratings  ·  364 reviews

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Diane S ☔
3.5 1946, the war is over and a young black man, a decorated veteran, is returning home by bus, to Alabama and his waiting father. He never makes it and his body is found several days later and his father wants justice for the murder of his son.

This is the beginning of the Civil Rights era, but it has not yet reached the deep South, where a white man can brag about killing a black man, without fear of repercussions, especially a young, wealthy white man from a prominent family.

The tangled lives
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

In the Secret of Magic, the authenticity of historical fact blends seamlessly with fiction to explore the tragic murder of a young man and a woman's determination to bring those responsible to justice.

In 1946 a young African American serviceman, Joe Howard Wilson, recently returned from the fighting in Italy, is beaten to death on his way home to Revere, Mississippi. A year later, his death having been ruled an accident, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York receives a letter asking them to
Dale Harcombe
Three and a half stars
The time is October 1945 and Joe Howard Wilson, a young Negro soldier is on his way back home to Mississippi and his father. But he never makes it home. Then his body is found. The law classifies his death as an accident. But there are those who know it was not. Move forward twelve months and the NAACP Legal Defense receives a letter from well-known author M.P. Calhoun asking for the death of Joe Howard Wilson and the court’s ruling to be investigated. Thurgood Marshall
Willette Hill
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I downloaded this book as an E-Book and also purchased a hard copy, but I want to give an opinion about this book as a book-on-tape. Finished "reading" this book yesterday. The narrator's voice was familiar; I "googled" his name on and discovered this was the same individual who had narrated "The Emperor of Ocean Park." He has a marvelous voice and really brought the book to life for me. Another delight of this book was the explanation at the end -- in the author's voice -- ...more
Nicole R
The secret of incorporating literary magic into a novel obviously eluded Ms. Johnson.

Joe Howard Wilson is returning home to Mississippi after fighting in WW2. He is looking forward to seeing his father Willie Willie but knows that the war has changed how he views race relations in the South. When he turns up dead, Ms. Mary Pickett Calhoun writes the legendary Thurgood Marshall to come down from New York to help sort things out. But, Mr. Marshall sends Ms. Regina Robihcaud instead and she gets
Laura P
4-1/2 Stars

When I finished this book… all I could say was “Wow”! An incredible story that led me to experience a wide range of emotions from beginning to end. When I first picked up this book and read the back cover, I had second thoughts about reading it. It just didn’t sound as appealing as the blurb must have when I first requested a copy. But I dove in anyway…. a little slow at first…. but it soon sucked me deep into the story within the story. This is a must read for anyone interested in
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book but it just wasn't that interesting. It had all the makings of a great read - historical fiction loosely based on real people, advent of the civil rights movement post WWII, one of the first african american female attorneys, the newish NAACP and appearances by a young Thurgood Marshall. Plus, the other story line was a fictional beloved children's book. But, something was off about the story and writing style. The underlying description of mistreatment of the ...more
Allie Riley
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this. The mystery element of the story isn't really important - it's not actually a mystery, because a white man did it and boasted about it. That was the point - a white man could murder a black man with impunity, literally. The evil injustice of it all is laid bare. Beautifully written, careful plotting and fully rounded characters make this a wonderful and very important read. Highly recommended.
Meg - A Bookish Affair
"The Secret of Magic" takes place in the mid-1940s. It's just after World War II and the United States is starting to put itself back together again as its young men come home. In the South, a young black man comes home as a decorated soldier and he hopes that his life and that of his family will be able to be better than it was before the war. It's not to be though and he is murdered, which will set off the main events of this book.

Regina is our main character in this book. She is a young
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book, beautifully written. If you are reading, teaching, learning about Black History Month, make time for this book. Set in Mississippi and New York in the late 1940s, it centers around a young, female African-American lawyer for the NAACP Negro Defense Fund who is sent by Thurgood Marshall to investigate the murder of a returning black soldier.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Lieutenant Joe Howard Wilson is returning home via bus after being honorably discharged from the Army for his service in WW2. He ends up being brutally murdered before he can make it all the way home to Mississippi. Regina Robichard is a rookie lawyer from New York who works under the tutelage of Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She feels that she can prove herself to her male coworkers by helping to solve this case and getting justice for Joe Howard's father, Willie Willie. ...more
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After a long library que wait, finally I sat down to begin a much anticipated read. Inside this beautifully designed cover is the story of four people who are determined to challenge the "way things have always been done" in Revere, Mississippi. Its 1945, the war is over. First leutenant John Howard is going home. He quietly rides the Bonnie Blue Bus line sitting in the colored section until he is asked to give up his seat to German POW's. And there it begins, the fight for dignity and justice ...more
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not big on historical fiction, but The Secret of Magic won me over almost instantly. Loosely based on a number of historical figures (Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley), as well as incidents and institutions during the 1940s (the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the lynchings of returning black WW II servicemen in the South) the actual story is all the invention of the author. And it's a really compelling story. Regina Robichard, the first woman to be hired by Marshall at the NAACP, goes ...more
K.E. Garvey
Nov 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Secret of Magic is a book within a book. Although my initial thoughts were that such a stylistic choice would be hard to follow or confusing, my initial impression was wrong.

First, the pros:

The author’s voice and style. Much of her prose is poetic. The flow and delivery of the story is smooth and melodic.

The setting. The author sets up 1946 rural Mississippi well enough to take us there without an overload of detail to take away from the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the read and the book
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story within a story that held me tightly until the last page. In fact, I went on to read the author's acknowledgments and note; I didn't want it to end. In the main story, it is 1946 (incidentally, the year I was born), and the main character, Regina Robichard, works for Thurgood Marshall, the leader of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York. She is sent to Mississippi to investigate the death of a black war hero who had been heading home. In the secondary story, woven beautifully ...more
Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it

A year-old murder, a book paralleling events and characters, and the South in the 1940's after WWII.

The charm of the South as well as its deep-seated prejudices comes forth in THE SECRET OF MAGIC as Regina Robichard travels from New York City to Revere, Mississippi, to investigate the murder of a young black man just returning from the war.

Regina hits brick walls right from the start even though she was invited by M. P. Calhoun, a powerful woman and author of a book also titled The Secret of
Nicole Means
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! All I have to say is WOW. By the end of "The Secret of Magic" I was shedding tears-- BIG, ugly cry tears.

Do not believe the review that compare this to "The Help." While I loved "The Help," the only two things these books have in common is the setting, Jim Crow South, and that they both received the Oprah stamp of approval. Not all books about the Jim Crow south are the same, and it is insulting to imply that.

"The Secret of Magic" is magical with characters the readers will be completely
A very enjoyable book about a young black female civil rights lawyer in 1946. Regina Mary Robichard is inspired to travel to Mississippi to help in solving the murder case of a young black soldier when the author of her favorite book writes to her office for help. When Regina gets to Revere, she finds out that the case is going to be a lot more difficult than she believed. She is deep in Jim Crow laws, lynching is very common and the white men and women who take part in the racist acts are not ...more
Nandi Crawford
A magical,yet haunting novel about a returning black WW2 veteran on his way home to a small town in Mississippi,and is killed. A young female attorney goes down and investigate for the NAACP. What she finds is secrets,mystery and a book and forest in the middle.Update: This timeless story about a young black WW2 Veteran coming home and fighting for the right of not giving up his seat to German POWs is at the root of the thing. Another point is a childhood book written by a local author who ...more
A black WWII decorated soldier heads home to Mississippi in 1946, he is taken off a bus by a group of hooded men and is found dead a week later. His death is ruled an accident and no criminal charges are filed. But someone cares about what happened and sends a letter to Thurgood Marshall at his NAACP office in New York. A young black female attorney on Marshall's staff goes down to Mississippi to investigate. While the story evolves too slowly (I think they could have edited it down by 50 ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Set right after the Second World War, this book is part mystery and part nostalgic trip through the past, although the circumstances involve going through prejudice and murder to find the truth. It was written in a style similar to My Sunshine Away and The Help, and the story is unforgettable.
The secret of World War II is that sometimes survivors died. The secret of racism is that sometimes the good die young. And the secret of a beloved children’s book is the mystery of who wrote it, where and why. In Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, protagonist Regina is a black female clerk, working for the soon-to-be-famous lawyer, Thurgood Marshall. When Marshall is asked to solve a mysterious death, she steps in boldly and learns another secret, that the North of America, in the late ...more
Bree T
In 1946, Regina Robichard is hired by Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legan Defense Fund. She has sat the bar in New York but will not hear of her results for another couple of weeks. One Saturday whilst hard at work, Regina opens a letter address to Marshall from a famous reclusive children’s author, M.P Calhoun.

Calhoun asks Thurgood Marshall to travel to the town of Revere in Mississippi to investigate the murder of returned
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. Be sure to read the authors note at the end.
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lordy! I would not have chosen this book on my own ('twas a book club selection), and I put off reading it for a long time because it's so sad, but once I got into it it was difficult to put down. The story was gripping, the characters were developed well, and the dialogue felt authentic. Beautiful writing, too. Read a plot summary for more info on that, but if you like a well-written, transportive, historical novel with a bit of suspense, you'll likely enjoy it, too.
Debbie Thompson
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very hard to imagine the life African Americans faced not so many years ago. I know history but each time you read something like this it, it brings it right back to forefront and makes me so mad. I hate the way they were treated and just want to scream at different places in this book. For a fictional book it had so much reality and not a good reality.
Tara Chevrestt
Reading this novel was like studying a piece of art. It makes the reader feel a gamut of emotions and like a connect-the-dots, you try to figure out how it all comes together. And though it doesn't tie itself up in a tidy bow in the end--this is about real life, after all, you're somehow left feeling satisfied.

You walk away from it with your life more enriched than before the book appeared in your hands.

In a nutshell: an African-American woman is trying to make it as a lawyer with the NAACP,
Judy Collins
In the Secret of Magic, the history, facts and background of the tragic murder of a young man as it blends seamlessly, with the fiction with a woman’s determination to bring to light those responsible and justice for this wrongful death.

In 1946 a young African American serviceman, Joe Howard Wilson, was returning from fighting in the war to his home in Mississippi. He was beaten to death; however, the incident was ruled an accident.

Afterwards the NAACP was contacted and a lawyer, Regina to
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
A letter sent to the NAACP in 1946, asking for help getting justice for a murdered, black war hero on his way back home to a small town in Mississippi, catches the attention of newly minted, black lawyer Regina Robichard, as much for the case as for the person who sent the letter: M. P. Calhoun, author of Regina's favorite book when she was growing up. That book was "The Secret of Magic," a story about black and white children playing together in a magical forest. Convincing her boss, Thurgood ...more
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc
Deborah Johnson does a wonderful job of storytelling in The Secret of Magic. I've heard stories of encounters between Whites and African Americans in the South and they closely mirror the experiences that Ms. Johnson describes.
This is story is set in post World War II Mississippi, 1945. A young Negro attorney from New York, Regina Robichard, armed with a letter written by M.P. Calhoun and a photograph of Joe Howard Wilson and his father, Willie Willie, goes to Revere, Mississippi to investigate
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Deborah Johnson was born below the Mason-Dixon Line, in Missouri, but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.

After college, she lived in San Francisco and then for many years in Rome, Italy where she worked as a translator and editor of doctoral theses and at Vatican Radio.

Deborah Johnson is the author of The Air Between Us, which received the Mississippi Library Association Award for fiction. She now lives
“Outside, it was coming on night. Twilight. “The magic time,” his daddy called it, “the make-a-wish moment between the dark and the light.” 6 likes
“And the dusk, the gritty Southern grayness of it, its harsh gathering, stopped Joe Howard from seeing out beyond the solitude of his own reflection, a soldier’s reflection: dark hair, a trimmed mustache, eyes he didn’t bother looking into, and farther down from them, the ghostly shadow of a khaki uniform, of lieutenant’s bars and a medal. There was no brain, no blood, no bone, no friend called L. C. Hoover sprayed all over this Joe Howard Wilson—at least not anymore.” 2 likes
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