“Magic or Madness” is the first book of a trilogy by the same name, written by Justine Larbalestier. I was actually looking for fiction about mental illness when I stumbled upon this, which combines YA fantasy and mental illness into one tidy little package, which seemed like it was worth taking a gamble on.
I’ll start by saying that I absolutely love that the main character’s name is Reason. The name itself and the explanation behind it, Reason’s mother’s firm belief in and reliance on logic, really pleased me. The list of alternative names she was glad she hadn’t been given was cute and funny, too.
Reason Cansino and her mother Sarafina have been living a nomadic lifestyle in Australia, largely to avoid detection from Sarafina’s mother Esmerelda. Sarafina has been telling Reason for her whole life that Esmerelda is dangerous, believes herself to be a witch, and has performed heinous rituals in the name of magic. Sarafina ran away from home as an adolescent, and has spent her adult life trying to protect her daughter from a woman she considers evil.
When Sarafina suffers a mental break and attempts to take her own life, Reason finds herself shuttled off to the house of the one person she wants to avoid, her grandmother, who has legal custody of her.
Reason refuses to trust, speak to, or even accept food from Esmerelda, and begins immediately plotting her escape. She is trying to decide whether to break her mother out of the nearby mental hospital where she has been placed.
Before she can make up her mind, and without having any of her bug-out supplies with her, she accidentally finds herself transported from her grandmother’s back door in Sydney to a frigid street in Manhattan, NY, in the middle of the night.
Reason is forced to come to grips with the idea that perhaps her mother was wrong all along, and that magic is real.
“Magic or Madness” is clever and fast-paced, with a fresh take on a contemporary fictional world in which some people have magic and some don’t. The leading lady is street-wise, intelligent, and a little rough-around the edges, and she has to rely on her intuition and self-knowledge to decide who to trust and who to run from in a wildly unfamiliar environment.
The sometimes-hard language is geared more toward the higher end of YA, so this would make a better teen than tween book. It is also very enjoyable for adults, in my opinion. Among other things, I appreciated the author’s disregard for narrow gender stereotypes in both her female and male characters.
The story held my attention firmly until I finished it, which happened quickly, because I didn’t want to put it down. Things definitely ended on a teasing, mysterious note, so I’m excited to pick up the next installment of the series.