Copper Magic, by Julia Mary Gibson

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Publication date – July 1, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Can an unearthed talisman found on the shores of Lake Michigan save 12-year-old Violet’s fractured family? Exploring themes of Native American culture, ecology, and conservation, this historical fiction novel comes brilliantly to life.

The year is 1906, and twelve-year-old Violet Blake unearths an ancient talisman—a copper hand—beside the stream where her mother used to harvest medicine. Violet’s touch warms the copper hand and it begins to reveal glimpses of another time. Violet is certain that the copper hand is magic—and if anyone is in need of its powers, it’s Violet. Her mother and adored baby brother are gone, perhaps never to return. Her heartbroken father can’t seem to sustain the failing farm on the outskirts of Pigeon Harbor, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Surely the magic of the copper hand can make things right for Violet and restore her fractured family. Violet makes a wish. But her ignorant carelessness unleashes formidable powers—and her attempts to control them jeopardizes not only herself, but the entire town of Pigeon Harbor.

In Copper Magic, land and waters are alive with memories, intentions, and impulses. Magic alters Violet and brings her gifts—but not always the kind she thinks she needs. First-time author Julia Mary Gibson brings Violet and her community to life in this impressive and assured debut.

Thoughts: I think it says a lot when you read a book and you can’t tell that the one who write is was making their debut with said novel. Not that every author’s early attempts are obvious, of course, but there’s often the feeling that as much as a novel is good, the author still hasn’t come to their full potential yet.

If this isn’t the best that Gibson will achieve in her writing career, then I can’t wait to see what she’s going to amaze me with in the future!

The combination of morality tale and history lesson don’t always work, but here Gibson has worked her own magic to keep readers interested right from the beginning. In 1906, a girl named Violet finds a copper hand, one that is magic and can make her wishes come true. Impressively, she doesn’t go nuts with wishing for everything and only then discovers the consequences, but from the beginning she’s rather careful, making a small wish to test it out, trying to make wishes that she thinks are worthy of actually using magic to make them happen, because she understands, on the instinctive level that children tend to have, that magic isn’t something you just play around with. Her mother has left and taken Violet’s young brother with her, and more than anything she wants her family to be reunited, but she doesn’t just wish for her mother back because she has forethought that sets her ahead of her years and can see potential complications to that method. In the meantime, Violet is working as an assistant to Nadia Zalzman, a photographer hired to take promotional pictures of a nearby hotel, and through Nadia’s influence, Violet’s world expands and she becomes much more aware of things going on around her that she wouldn’t have discovered had she just stayed at home with her father.

Violet’s attitude is remarkably mature for someone her age, likely born from her living in a less-than-great situation, but reading from her perspective makes a wonderful and refreshing change from most YA protagonists, regardless of genre or subgenre, many of whom live in the moment and don’t have much skill at planning when it comes to preparing for possibilities other than the desired one. There is no romance in this book, save for the lingering depression Violet’s father feels over his absent wife. This is a book that tells a different story from YA standards. This is Violet’s story of discovery, of learning the value of truth and lies, of consequences and prejudice and her place in the world that was built on the backs of others.

I suspect, though, that many readers will roll their eyes a little at the obvious negative consequences of Violet’s wishes. It says right on the cover, “be careful what you wish for,” and no wish is entirely benign. Violet may be shocked when tragedy follows her wish, but the reader certainly won’t be. They will, however, most likely be able to relate to Violet’s panic over the issue, blaming herself for the wish she directed the copper hand’s magic to, believing she was the cause and knowing that she can’t tell anyone because they won’t believe her and so telling won’t relieve any of her anxiety.

There’s much of great value in this novel, and for all that it’s intended for teens, it was very easy to forget that while reading. You expect some simplifications of issues when you’re reading from the perspective of a 12 year old, but it wasn’t until writing this review that I was reminded that oh yeah, this book was written for younger audiences and not with adults specifically in mind. This is a book than can easily transcend genre and age categories. You get to see racism in a more historical context, the treatment of blacks and Native Americans and erased history and white superiority, and a dozen and one little issues that paint a disturbing big picture of American social history. With the exception of the obvious “be careful what you wish for” lesson, this book was damn near flawless, and I know it’s going to be one that I read again in the future. Gibson is an author to keep an eye on, and I highly recommend Copper Magic to those who are looking for an uncommonly mature YA novel that breaks away from current standards.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

4 comments on “Copper Magic, by Julia Mary Gibson

  1. Ria, I very much appreciate your thoughtful perceptions and ideas about my story. Thank you so much for reading it and giving me a lot to consider. Best, Julia

  2. Pingback: June in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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