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A Fistful of Sky (A LaZelle Family Novel) Hardcover – November 5, 2002
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The LaZelle family of southern California has a secret: they can do magic. Real magic. As a teenager, a LaZelle undergoes "the Transition"--a severe illness that will either kill him or leave him with magical powers. If he's lucky, he gains a talent like shape-changing or wish-granting. If he's unlucky, he never experiences Transition. If he's especially unlucky, he undergoes Transition late, which increases his chances of dying. And if he survives, he will bear the burden of a dark, dangerous magic: the ability to cast only curses. And curse he must, for when a LaZelle doesn't use his magic, it kills him.
In Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Fistful of Sky, Gypsum LaZelle is unique among her brothers and sisters: she has not undergone Transition. She resigns herself to a mundane, magic-bereft existence as a college student. Then one weekend, when her family leaves her home alone, she becomes gravely ill... --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
Stoker winner Hoffman attains a new level of maturity and complexity with this coming-of-age contemporary fantasy. Unlike her charismatic, beautiful mother and her four remarkable siblings, Gypsum, the middle daughter of the magical LaZelle family of Southern California, is a misfit who hasn't "transitioned" during adolescence into her special gifts and powers. Instead, she takes after her perfectly normal father. Intelligent, resourceful and caring, Gyp deals with her lack of magic by growing into a self-effacing, low-profile but still greatly beloved member of the family. Then suddenly at age 20, Gyp attains her gift, the "unkind" power of curses. Gyp's struggles to deal with her newfound dark power are emotional, frightening and hilarious. By the story's end we've had to confront, just as the LaZelles do, that even members of the most wonderful, loving, close-knit families in the world can innocently inflict considerable damage on each other. While making the story both humorous and enlightening, Hoffman never allows the reader to forget this is also a scary situation for her group of exceptionally well-developed characters. The lyrical writing flows at a perfect pace and is as engaging as the characters. With its themes of family, magic, love and healing, the novel may appeal more to women and adolescents than men, while its ending may be a bit too touchy-feely New Age for some. But the sense of wonder, lack of cynicism and sheer craft compare to vintage Ray Bradbury.awards.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The story is a fairly simple one about family, loyalty and how the two combine to protect and smother a person. But it was the little reveals about each character and how they use their magical powers that really turns this story around.
I guess, if I had to sum up what I loved about this story is that the main character is the most normal of the bunch. Unlike her siblings, she doesn't have powers and when it becomes clear that she wont, she doesn't participate in the magical lessons her Uncle provides. From this point on, she is as much of an outsider as someone who didn't grow up in their house.
Gypsum might not admit it or even be able to recognize it, but because she didn't transition and gain a magical skill, her life has been more about going along with things than in actively seeking out a path. She's been in limbo for years. She has a part time job at the local college. She bakes cookies when she's home. She hangs out with her best friend, but all of this has the hallmarks of someone who didn't really get over losing the spot they thought they would have, she's accepted it but hasn't really moved on.
So when she gains powers it is super shocking to her and the rest of her family, the power she gets is even more of a shock.I don't want to spoil this for anyone, because the reveal is a big part of the story going forwards.
I was always kinda hoping that Ms. Hoffman would do a follow up novel. The family deserved more story and I wanted to see things a bit more settled. I also was a bit bothered by some of the horrid (sorta evil) things that people will do to their own family members. I also wanted to know more about everyone's powers, but, alas, that was not meant to be and the most we get is Gypsum's power.
Her late entrance into her birthright magic, a malevolent version of her family's benevolent magic, gives her a unique perspective on the consequences of the choices we make, since her choices can't be written off as childish selfishness. Therein lies the central conflict of the story: whether power is considered good or bad is irrelevant; what matters is how you choose to utilize it. Hoffman's delicately woven story is a pleasant and subtle read about the parts we choose to keep and the parts we choose to let go of, not just as we leave childhood but throughout life.
This is a magical story. *cough* It was fun and for the most part, lighthearted, but there were some very truth-full parts about how family members can hurt you deeply, even when they think they are loving you. The bits about family were very real. The story got a bit wobbly for me in the last five pages, where it had been straightforward the whole book, suddenly it seemed that the author had taken a psychedelic drug to finish it. The magic was a bit of a Mary Jane system (whatever you wished for you suddenly could do), but as a coming of age novel that really didn't bother me. It was heaps of fun to read, the characters and family were engaging and real.
It wanders a bit and could maybe have been tightened a little (the Altria plotline is a bit confusing) but you'll never notice that while reading this. I'll defintely be reading the next book about the family.