This is a charming middle-grade fantasy about a boy in a magic-wielding family finally getting his own “savvy” on his 13th birthday. Ledger (all the kids in the family have bizarre names) hopes that he will become a super-fast runner, the track star that his father hopes for. Instead, his talent seems to be making mechanical things fall apart. He hopes that he’ll have something useful and controllable, like his twin cousins who can move things with their mind, or his mother, who can make people obey with a smile. Instead he’s more like his cousin Rocket (like I said, bizarre names) who has never really learned to control his power and is hiding out on the ranch until he can learn to control it.
Trouble comes pretty early on when Sarah Jane, the tomboy daughter of the richest man in town, stows away and comes to the ranch where all Ledger’s magical family are gathered for a wedding. The idea that any preteen girl with even a modicum of self-preservation would stow away in a stranger’s car felt as unrealistic as kids getting magic powers on their 13th birthday, but the whole book is a bit over-the-top and goofy. Ledger doesn’t say “my parents are going to kill me if they find out” he says things like “if they find out, I’m ding-dong, deader-than-a-doornail-dead.” A lot of the dialogue, especially Ledger’s internal voice, felt like a family-friendly wild-west show, with its exaggerated colloquialisms; funny, but sometimes trying too hard. Kind of like a cross between the Xanth novels and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
This was a pretty good middle-age fantasy novel with some solid themes: coming of age, learning to live your own dreams and not your parent’s, learning responsibility, first love, and getting touched by adult troubles (in this case, the poor financial state of the town of Sundance) for the first time. I liked that not everyone learned to “scumble” (control their savvy) at the same pace, and that Ledger was neither the most skilled nor the least skilled. That felt pretty authentic and true, which was a nice grounding in what was a somewhat silly book.
I definitely recommend this for people who like middle-grade fantasy, and for people who like middle-grade books in general.