Book Reviews

What I’ve Been Reading: Magic Diary by Pat LaMarche

My reading and blog writing has been limited for some time. I’ve been doing some traveling for a couple friend’s bachelor parties – one in Vegas and one in Dallas, both requiring several days of recovery afterwards. I’ve also devoted a majority of my spare time at night to writing my next novel, which I’m just about halfway through. That being said, I met a few authors from Sunbury at a book event in Doylestown and want to read their books and write reviews for them. Pat Lamarche was one of those people, so I started with her book Magic Diary. Pick it up on Amazon or at the Sunbury online store.

I sat beside Lamarche at the Bucks Country Bookfest and we had plenty of time to talk books and get to know each other a little bit. Lamarche has an interesting backstory as a history scholar, broadcaster, healthcare advocate, political activist, journalist, and, now, novel author. Magic Diary is her first foray into fiction and is an intriguing story that captured a lot of people’s interest at the book event.

Magic Diary tells the story of Genevieve, a fourteen year old girl fighting cancer that has relapsed after several years. She’s whip-smart and full of spunk despite her condition, and has a pretty great attitude about her situation and the possibility of losing her battle with the illness. Through the entire story, she’s residing on the eighth floor of a hospital where she begins to form relationships with staff members and also has to watch other sick patients filter through the floor. She no longer has a relationship with her alcoholic father, so her core family includes her perpetually worked-up mother and her old but sassy “Nana.”

Genevieve is given a diary from her favorite teacher, who tells her that it is magic because time will fly right by when she writes in it. Starting off in a pretty normal way, she documents her time in the hospital and the emotions that she’s experiencing about her mother and her sickness. Suddenly, her diary is answering her back using the voice of famous historical figures who all somehow fit together to teach and encourage Genevieve. To name a few: Charlie Chaplin, Florence Nightingale, and Arthur Ashe. My favorite was Florence Nightingale because I didn’t know much about her, so it was the most educational section for me.

Throughout all of it, a tarot card-reading psychic becomes involved, we meet Genevieve’s crush from school, and her mom and grandmother are consistently present at Genevieve’s bedside. Genevieve and her grandmother, who she identifies with strongly and holds as something of a partner-in-crime, try hard to figure out if the writing is actually magic, or if it’s somebody else secretly writing the passages. All the while, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of a young cancer patient worried more about her family and the logistics of getting hospital treatment than disease and death. That makes her a likeable and endearing character that gives the story the necessary depth to follow along the journey.

If I have any criticism, it would be that Genevieve occasionally slips into language that seems a little too mature for a fourteen year old –even a really, really intelligent one. Didn’t happen often, but there were a couple moments where her thoughts or dialogue just seemed a little to adult-like for a teenager. Didn’t really interrupt the story, just a thought I had briefly when reading. I should add, it’s in a wide vocabulary kind of way, not a swearing or inappropriate language way.

While most of the historical backgrounds were excellent and, to my knowledge pretty factual, they should all be a starting point to a discussion about said topics. It’s a lot of heavy stuff that young people should know requires a close, detailed inspection to understand. Particularly, the section where the Kennedy assassination is mentioned might be a little confusing for a younger person. It is a fascinating topic, and it’s safe to say there is a general consensus that it didn’t go down like the government first wanted everyone to believe. That being said, very little has been absolutely proven about it. Introducing it to a young person out of the box as a huge CIA conspiracy might not be the best approach… albeit interesting haha.

Magic Diary shows the reader a family and a young lady being forced to think about mortality and the different ways people react to it. While the historical figures’ letters were something of a day-to-day distraction for Genevieve, she was also thinking deeply about life and the big picture, which ultimately helps a person accept their own place in it. Life is often best understood by thinking about it from a different perspective. LaMarche’s work in healthcare, history, and journalism has obviously brought her to a point where she can express that in an interesting and clever way through a touching novel.

Great for a wide variety of ages. An excellent book for a young person and adult to read at the same time and discuss afterwards. Quick but solidly educational introductions to important historical topics. Ultimately heartwarming and fun with an ending that ties it together nicely.

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