C.G. Drews's Reviews > The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil
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bookshelves: aussie-authors, autism, contemporary, read-2017, young-adult

Ohhh I was so excited for this book about a magical boy and a sciency girl. Plus Melissa Keil is SUCH an amazing author and I've adored her other two books (The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl and Life in Outer Space) so so much!! This new book, however, did fall a little short for me but that's mostly because I didn't really understand what it was trying to SAY. The characters were so nerdy and adorkable and the sibling relationships were the besssst. And I LAUGHED QUITE A LOT. So much solid win there. But I always feel like a rather undercooked kumquat sandwich when I don't get a book.

So here am I. Undercooked kumquat sandwich. Hi, how are you.

• absolutely super cute dual-narrating protagonists
• who were both totally on the Autistic spectrum (just undiagnosed)
• SUPER cute sibling relationships
• Sophia was POC
• Joshua had a lisp
• magic card tricks which are actually my favourite (yaaaas I'm teaching myself on youtube and I'm a dork and I'm not even sorry)
• excellent writing
• exceptionally good dialogue and the kind of banter that had me snickering quietly like a deluded piece of tree and had my dog looking at me strangely
• AND OH THE BEST CAMEOS EVER!!!! Sam and Camilla actually play a role in here and just afdjksalfd I only just realised how much I miss them and excuse me while I need to re-read Life in Outer Space immediately
• huzzah for diverse Aussie YA!!!

So one of the things I had a little trouble with was how Sophia seemed very obviously Autistic but the book wasn't interested in diagnosing her. I guess a lot of people are anti-labels. But isn't it better not to grow up thinking you're broken? Isn't it better to understand yourself and have tools to get others to understand you? In a way, I'm just peeved that the book gave Sophia some of the symptoms (ie: no social skills, high intelligence, inability to read faces, wrong emotional cues, seemed robotic but was not, sensory processing issues, high anxiety) but wouldn't commit to actually talking about ASD. It's missing suuuuuch a good opportunity here to give voice to ASD girls. I also kind of felt like it ended with the idea that "different isn't broken" (YES YES YES) but "different is just fine once you accept yourself" (nooo people with ASD often need more help than that and Sophia had SO many cues that she needed therapy/counselling). I even felt like it just at the end said "oh she just has social anxiety and needs medication" and it felt like a bit of ASD erasure. But I may be just misinterpreting it. And obviously this could JUST be headcannon and I have no idea what the author truly intended. I just feel like I've gotten a lot of mixed messages.

Plus I feel like I missed a lot of points??! Like apparently Josh wanted to "save" Sophia. I got that he had a bit of an insta-love infatuation with her, but I didn't really see evidence at the beginning of him trying to save her?!?? I just thought he had a massive crush and figured now was the time to go for it. (view spoiler)

Which leads me to:

• instalove
• the romance went like dOWN LIKE A DEAD OF SOCK but IDK understand why?? (view spoiler)
• I fell like I really didn't get aNYONE'S motivations
• my legit favourite part was the cameo's from the other book's characters which...is a problem tbh
• absent parents
• like literally there are NO PARENTS in this book
• Josh's storyline was like 90% "ooh Sophia!!" and he really had no plot for himself which makes me saddddddd
• plus Sophia had like 60% of the chapters and I think it was unbalanced

Egad, I'm a rain cloud. Don't get me wrong!! I LOVED THE BOOK. I LOVED THE WRITING. I really really loved Josh. <3 I think he was so dorky and cute and I love reading about boys who prattle along when they're anxious to impress a girl. I think Sophia was adorable and I found her social awkwardness very relatable. I really love books with magic card tricks in them. Because obviously I plan to be a magician when I grow up and magic more books onto my shelves because #priorities.

ALL IN ALL: It was a really nerdy book full of relatable characters and a far amount of SAD FEELS. Josh was just ADORABLE and I hope he does magic card tricks forever. I absolutely loved the themes that people who are different are. not. broken and they DO NOT need to change!! That is a precious message and pls put it everywhere.
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Reading Progress

December 2, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
December 2, 2015 – Shelved
April 14, 2017 – Started Reading
April 14, 2017 –
page 0
0.0% ""Remind me again why we have no friends?"
"Because you're a socially inept freakazoid, and I think everyone's annoying."

I relate so hard."
April 14, 2017 –
page 239
75.39% "So this book is actually bothering me now???? Because I feel like if Sophia actually got diagnosed as Autistic (actually Joshua too tbh, I'm pretty sure he's on the spectrum as well) 90% of the problems would be helped with therapy and understanding????? And I don't think the book is going to admit to the disabilities. But we'll see. 0_0"
April 15, 2017 – Shelved as: aussie-authors
April 15, 2017 – Shelved as: autism
April 15, 2017 – Shelved as: contemporary
April 15, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
April 15, 2017 – Shelved as: young-adult
April 15, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-32 of 32 (32 new)

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message 1: by sumi (new) - added it

sumi NOOO INSTALOVE *drowns in own tears*

Neeks YESSS, I got the impression that Sophia was on the autism spectrum too but I don't have much knowledge on it so I never mentioned it! I definitely get what you mean by the erasure though, I was convinced she was Austistic, but second guessed myself constantly because it was NEVER BOUGHT UP???

message 3: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Prabhleen: It's always such an annoying trope. XD

@Taneika: aHh, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought that!! ASD runs in my family so I couldn't help but notice all the symptoms and it's just so disappointing the word was never mentioned??!? Talking about Autism shouldn't be taboo. 0_0 And I can't believe she could be that severely socially inept and have ZERO teachers or parents pick anything up or try to help. It seems so unrealistic. (My nephew was suggested for diagnosis after being in preschool for a week! Yet Sophia was in school for 12 years and no one thought to notice??)

message 4: by Zaynah (new) - added it

Zaynah Abbas Is it bad instalove? Like, sometimes the author manages to pull it off- is it like that?

message 5: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Zaynah: I didn't think anything in the book was "bad" haha. I mean I gave it 4 stars!

message 6: by Zaynah (new) - added it

Zaynah Abbas Oh, yeah, something else- do you know any good books by Australian authors? I love your sense of humour.

Daisy Paquet *obsessively checks library website to see if this book has come in*

message 8: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Zaynah: Oh tons! I have a whole shelf of Aussie authors. But some of my favourites are: Words in Deep Blue, Life in Outer Space, Night Swimming, Queens of Geek, The First Third, and The Things I Didn't Say.

message 9: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Daisy: I hope you like it. :D

message 10: by Zaynah (new) - added it

Zaynah Abbas Cait (Paper Fury) wrote: "@Zaynah: Oh tons! I have a whole shelf of Aussie authors. But some of my favourites are: Words in Deep Blue, Life in Outer Space, Night Swimming, [bo..."

Thanks so much!

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I definitely hear you on the "missed chances" and "mixed messages." Too many authors are doing that, and I don't like it.

message 12: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Daley: I kiiiind of feel like authors don't want to put a "label" on Autism so they can deny getting things wrong? That might be me just being WAY too harsh though. But I'm just so confused. >_<

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Cait (Paper Fury) wrote: "@Daley: I kiiiind of feel like authors don't want to put a "label" on Autism so they can deny getting things wrong? That might be me just being WAY too harsh though. But I'm just so confused. >_<"

I think it's a case of the damaging concept being pushed these days that "labels are harmful." When diagnosing something helps to explain/correct the negative parts, how is that a bad thing? If you had cancer, wouldn't you want to know that, so you could decide how to treat? Or heart disease, or high blood pressure, diabetes, MS, etc. etc. etc.? It's not "labeling" if it's describing and defining to better understand and research and possibly find a cure when a cure is needed (like for cancer). That includes the parts of autism -- like high anxiety -- that even those of us ASD-ers wish weren't part of the package.

La Coccinelle I don't know if this is a case of the author not wanting to use labels for fear of getting things wrong. ASD is a spectrum disorder, so unless you're way off in left field, there are myriad ways the disorder could be portrayed that could be considered "right". This book sounds more like it's promoting the neurodiversity movement. The problem that I've found with this is that it's mostly the people at the highest end of the ASD spectrum telling everyone else on the spectrum how to live their lives, when they have no idea what those lives are like (due to theory of mind problems that often go along with ASD). Some of them obviously don't have the more negative aspects of ASD (or, if they do, they're not bothered by them). The problem, then, is that they tend to view any issues they do have as the fault of others. They'll think their ASD is a problem only because other people don't accept them or their differences... not because of the inherent challenges with the disorder that can cause problems with social interaction, sensory integration, and anxiety. Because they enjoy certain aspects of their ASD and/or make it a huge part of their identity, they don't want to change anything... even if that means not getting help for the more problematic aspects. When they then try to force this idea on everyone on the spectrum, they're effectively saying there should be no help for those who need or want it.

Being different is certainly okay... but ignoring problems that could be helped is kind of neglectful. Like Daley said, if you have a symptom that's harmful, you treat it. Having less anxiety won't necessarily make you lose your ASD diagnosis or make your IQ go down (which is what I think a lot of people on the upper end of the spectrum are afraid of, since they equate the disorder with their talents)... but it might make living day-to-day life a lot easier.

message 15: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Daley: Yes, argh, I do get that. I think labels are helpful so you can "find your tribe", as it were. And to also understand that you're not broken. And honestly MOST of this is just me speculating about what the book intended. Maybe the author didn't intend for her to have ASD at all...but the signs are just so so huge. Idk.

message 16: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @La Coccinelle: I think I understand what you mean? But I don't think the book is promoting any of that tbh. I just think that it's got an obviously ASD character and no one will use the word or explore the issues the character is facing with helpful solutions. And tbh teenagers google, so I don't know why Sophia didn't google things for herself. She's supposed to be uber smart.

Anyway, I don't think the book is sending a harmful message. I just think it didn't collect its thoughts enough, if that makes sense.

La Coccinelle @Cait: Well, I'll take your word for it, as I haven't read it. The neurodiversity movement is just something that sprang to mind as I was reading your review because you mentioned the lack of helpful solutions. But, I agree, a smart teenager probably would have Googled about her problems, even if it was just to find out if she was the only one going through these things. (Have you noticed that, in a lot of books, there's a conspicuous lack of Googling going on? I guess a lot of mysteries could be solved way too easily if teenagers had access to the Internet!)

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

@Cait (Paper Fury): I do agree with the way authors seem to create a character that fits a lot of "symptoms" for something like ASD, but then refuse to come right out and say it, and I think it would be much better for the story, for the readers, if they did establish it, one way or the other. And, yeah, what is up with the lack of Googling? Maybe they were concerned about copyright issues?

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

@Cait (Paper Fury):
And unfortunately, some people ARE that clueless. Most of my youth I was just told not to "be so weird," without anybody looking into why I couldn't help the way I acted, why I repeatedly showed social anxiety, why loud noises and changes to routine bothered me SO much. At the very least, you'd have thought my family would've taken me to the doctor and said, "She's REALLY not like other kids." But, nope.

message 20: by Shelbi (new) - added it

Shelbi This book literally sounds so amazing!

Cassandra Page I saw the "saving" thing throughout. All of his OTT romantic gestures were in response to her telling him about her problems. I'm glad he learned to stop doing that, because it was a bit squicky at times.

Cassandra Page PS She was apparently seeing a counsellor - who completely failed to notice the ASD traits. I saw them too, same as you. Her counsellor should be soooooooo sacked.

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

@Cassandra: It's been my experience that a lot of counselors/therapists are only trained in the basics of recognizing things like autism, so if it doesn't fit the stereotypical symptoms checklist (which a lot of females on the spectrum didn't, until they changed the checklist), the professional won't even get it. I went to several psychologists and counselors who outright said they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, because I didn't "fit" the criteria for ADHD, bipolar, or chronic depression. It's part of what makes me super, super mad about this book - it seems like the author purposefully put the stupidest people in the world around this poor girl who just needed a diagnosis.

Amanda May Thai Great review, I totally agree with your points :)

message 25: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Amanda: Thanks!

Kaja (red panda) *:・゚✧ I can't wait to read this book! Unfortunately I can't seem to be able to find it anywhere in any format, hope that changes!

Hannah Bnana I figured Sophia's asd diagnosis was the reason why she saw the counsellor, to gain some Social skills training and the like.

message 28: by Wen (new)

Wen Moore I think I loved this review more than I'll love the book but your write up has made me want to read it :)

Jennifer Blanch Yes! I am not even on page 100 and everything is screaming at me "Autism, autism!" in regards to Sophia so it's such a bummer if it's never brought up? It's a very...quirky..book so far. Not sure of my feelings yet.

message 30: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Jennifer: In retrospect, I'm really disappointed in this book. I think if Sophia is intended to have autism, it's not a good representation (autistic girls are NOT emotionless and unable to feel empathy) and if she isn't intended to be autistic, then I don't understand what's going on?!

message 31: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy I couldn’t agree more @C.G.

message 32: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @BookishAmy: 💛💛

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