A Snicker of Magic

Natalie Lloyd's debut novel is an appealingly real and multi-layered story with a vast cast of characters.

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, Scholastic, 320 pp.

People with real magic in their veins once lived in Midnight Gulch, Tenn. They could catch stars, dance up sunflowers, even glow in the dark. It’s the kind of town where Felicity Pickle hopes her wandering family will stay forever. Until they arrived in this mysterious place, she’d felt like she was from “Nowhere in Particular.... Moving around so much should have made me bold and happy and free.… Strange how I only ever felt lost.”

Felicity Pickle is the protagonist of Natalie Lloyd's delightful debut novel A Snicker of Magic. Her mama, an artist and adventure seeker, claims all the Pickles are nomads. Felicity and her sister Frannie Jo never know when she might wake them in the middle of the night and leave town. Even though there are enough aunts, uncles, and friends to make Midnight Gulch home, if all the magic has moved out, Mama doesn’t want to stay.

But Felicity has a bit of her own magic. She’s a word collector. Words shimmer around her, even when she’s squinting at the cloud of exhaust billowing out of their old car’s tailpipe: Spunkter, Sumpter, Siffle-miffle. Bright words swirl around her sister as she skips into her new classroom: Popsicle, Paper star, Poppy-seed muffin.

Yes, Felicity collects words and sees a sky full of them. But they’re a mess if she tries to say them to more than one person at a time. “They melt on my tongue like snowflakes. They disappear right off the edge of my lips, and I end up standing there blinking, openmouthed, like the Queen of Dorkville.”

She says them fine when she’s talking to her mama and her little sister, even to her new friend Jonah. Now Jonah has a plan to help Felicity share her love of words and it might just mean all the Pickles will stay.

Before she met this boy who knows a lot about the town’s curses and riddles, Felicity hadn’t figured on the magic that’s left in Midnight Gulch. Jonah knows the town’s characters, the magical ice cream, and even a way Felicity might be able to stay in Midnight Gulch. A snicker of magic might not be much, it might be leftover or “not as fancy as it used to be,” but perhaps it’s enough.

Lloyd’s debut novel has much more than a snicker of magic. Yes, the cast of characters is vast and varied. The story is multi-layered. There’s a bit of mystery as well as that magic. And a complicated plot. But the appealing thing to young readers will be how real this all feels. The magical and the realistic are closely intertwined in such lyrically beautiful language that the story feels like it could happen next door, in an adjoining classroom, or on their very own auditorium stage.

Felicity Pickle and her friends have the perfect word for awesome. Spindiddly! That’s exactly how I feel about "A Snicker of Magic."

Augusta Scattergood regularly reviews children’s books for the Monitor.

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