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Maya has magic next door; I have an Avon lady next door - where's the fairness?
on August 7, 2011
Nina Kiriki Hoffman wrote one of my most favorite books ever (THE THREAD THAT BINDS THE BONES) and from then on she couldn't do wrong by me. She's one of those authors whose novels I purchase just because her name's on the cover, and there are only select authors who I think merit that sort of devotion (Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Terry Pratchett, Tim Powers, Roger Zelazny, Dick Francis). Nina Kiriki Hoffman's MEETING is the second book in her Magic Next Door series; it's the sequel to THRESHOLDS. It's one of them YA or even middle school reads. Don't let that stop you even if you're a full-time grown up. You'll only miss out on Hoffman's remarkable craftsmanship and that delicate sense of wonder she infuses into her stories.
THRESHOLDS introduced us to twelve-year-old Maya Andersen whose family had just moved to Spores Ferry, Oregon. Maya was still grieving the loss of her best friend Stephanie who had finally succumbed to cancer. The decision to relocate the fam was in part to give Maya a fresh start. In Spores Ferry, Maya befriended the strange kids living next door, in the reclusive Janus House Apartments. In Spores Ferry, Maya discovered magic and the possibility of alien worlds (Janus House's basement boasts an intergalactic portal). She's also had an alien egg embedded in her wrist which then hatched, giving birth to Rimi, an alien, specifically a sissimi. Rimi and Maya are bonded now and inseparable best friends, the high-spirited and very curious Rimi having taken on the aspect of Maya's shadow. It's cute that Rimi loves to taste everything and she loves sharing the taste with Maya. Sometimes Rimi will sample something from the garbage. Maya's not down with that.
As MEETING opens, six weeks or so have elapsed since the events in THRESHOLDS. The odd inhabitants of the Janus House Apartments have loosened up enough that they and the Andersens now regularly get together for Music Night (Janus House can harmonize like a mother). Having inadvertently fallen into a world of weirdness, Maya now juggles regular school and piano lessons with attending Janus House three days a week for even more lessons, these having to do with her learning about magic and also learning more about her sissimi Rimi. Janus House clings to its privacy. A magical geas prevents Maya from accidentally blurting out secrets about Janus House. Maya's reticence frustrates the heck out of her younger brother (who'd seen Maya do some very weird stuff since the big move) and her older sister who is just tremendously nosy.
Nina Kiriki Hoffman weaves an enchanting tapestry of magic, mystery, and every-day normality. She lures you effortlessly into the life of a wounded young girl coming into her own. Hoffman again introduces one of her go-to themes, the flowering of an unexpected friendship. Maya still gets that sad twinge whenever she thinks of Stephanie, and there's a sad irony in that Stephanie had always been the one who had longed for magic. Magical people have entered Maya's life, some friendly, some shady. Except that one thing you should know about Nina Kiriki Hoffman is that she messes around with stereotypes. In her stories, enemies hardly ever stay enemies. But, then again, it'll be a challenge for her to reconcile the Krithi - the sinister alien race what stole Rimi from her home world in the first place.
There's a captivating day-in-the-life vibe here, and, in tone and pace, it vividly recalls Hayao Miyazaki's films (SPIRITED AWAY, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE). What I like best about Hoffman's stories is that she peppers in these wonderful little moments of self-discovery, of self-empowerment. The dramatic conflicts tend to be more personal rather than epic or world-threatening in nature. The inhabitants of Janus House choose their careers early in life. Maya, at twelve years old, is already an exceptional artist. Her knack for capturing images on paper, coupled with Rimi's ever expanding abilities, draws the interest of Columba, Janus House's security officer. "Join my force," she entreats Maya. "We have cake." But Maya isn't sure she wants to be a spy. I'll tell you, I was so into the story that I was a bit shocked when I realized that there were only a few pages left. It was over before I knew it, ending rather abruptly as Maya and her friends trick or treat on Halloween. Even if the final chapter does give us a melancholy bit of closure. The good news is that it definitely feels like there's a third book coming.