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Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

By Lissa Evans

Reviewed by: Becca Worthington

Recommended for: Boys and girls, ages 8 and up

One Word Summary: Mesmerizing.

My father used to do magic tricks at my siblings’ and my birthday parties when we were little. It was basic, beginner stuff—pick a card any card, guess which tiny cup the fluff ball is under, sleight-of-hand-type novelty tricks—but it won us over nonetheless. We sat there year after year, a group of enthralled and entranced elementary schoolers on a green shag carpet, gawking up at this bearded magician extraordinaire, as he pulled a quarter from his mouth that we had distinctly watched him tuck under his shoe just a moment before!

There is something about magic. It captures the imaginations of children and adults alike, from clowns piling endlessly out of a circus car to David Blaine levitating and David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear. In whatever guise, it inspires the question, “Why do we love to believe in magic so much?”

Is it simply because it’s entertaining? Or is it because our creativity is triggered and intrigued by the unknown? Or could it be perhaps because we all truly, deep down, think that if a live rabbit can be pulled from a top hat, nose wiggling, then anything is possible; that if I pick the right card from this magician’s hand right now, the possibilities for my life and my destiny are limitless?

The wildly inventive middle-grade novel Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans reads like one giant, fantastic, eye-bulging magic show. It relays impressive tricks, careful never to show its hand until the right moment. It inspires, it dazzles, and it could happen to any one of us at any given time—or so it would be (and is) absolutely delightful to think.

Stuart Horten is a ten-year-old boy so short he is constantly mistaken for an eight-year-old. When his parents—a bustlingly busy doctor mother and a nerdy crossword puzzle writer father—decide to move to his father’s tiny hometown of Beeton in the English countryside, Stuart is horrified. There is nothing to do in miserable

little Beeton except poke around crumbling historical museums listening to lectures on ancient artifacts. That, and try to avoid the nosy next-door triplets, April, May and June, who seem determined to uncover the dirt on Stuart and publish an expose of his life in their homemade newspaper.

But that is all about to change, starting with the discovery of a little box. One dull morning at home with his father, Stuart accidently unlocks a trick coin box with a secret compartment that holds a handful of old coins and a note. The note is from his missing uncle, Teeny Tiny Tony Horton, a notoriously skilled local magician who disappeared under mysterious circumstances several decades before. On his way to the town library to dig up more information on the disappearance, Horton realizes he is being followed by the triplets. He ducks into a phone booth to escape, and out of curiosity, he puts one of the old coins into the phone slot before realizing that the phone cord is entirely severed, hanging lifeless and disconnected. Disappointed, he opens the booth to leave, and the phone rings. The voice on the other end of the line asks to speak to him. Stuart’s summer is about to get a lot more interesting.

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is a thoughtfully crafted and wonderfully told tale of an ordinary child who is in for the magical ride of his life. The first in what promises to be an extraordinary series, this charming debut gives its readers puzzles to solve, characters to enjoy, jokes to chuckle at, and smart twists to keep readers on their toes. If you like magic, you will breeze through this book faster than Houdini can escape an underwater straightjacket. Faster even, perhaps, than my father can pull a quarter from behind my ear. And that, my friends, is an impressive trick.