- Age Range: 12 and up
- Grade Level: 7 - 12
- Lexile Measure: 630L (What's this?)
- Series: Magic or Madness (Book 1)
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Razorbill; First edition. edition (March 17, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1595140220
- ISBN-13: 978-1595140227
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 37 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,119,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Magic or Madness Hardcover – March 17, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 7-10–Australian author Larbalestier has wrought beautiful and fearsome magic in this novel, the first in a proposed trilogy. Reason Cansino has spent her life with her unusual mother in the bush, moving frequently, keeping to herself, and learning how to guard against her bizarre grandmother, Esmeralda. When her mother goes insane and 15-year-old Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda, she starts to question all the stories her mother has told her. Is Mere practicing magic, which Reason's mother insisted was not real? Why have nearly all her ancestors died young? When Reason digs up a dead cat in the cellar and finds the key to a locked (magic) door, she escapes her increasingly frightening grandmother only to find herself halfway around the world in New York City, weak, in danger, and befriended by the mysterious Jay-Tee. Authentic teen voices from two continents reveal the fast-paced events and the conflicts faced by youth when powerful (and predatory) adults seek to take advantage of their ignorance. Readers will especially identify with Reason as she struggles to accept her identity and establish autonomy. Larbalestier's sense of place and refreshing exploration of magic as a force for both good and evil make this novel unusual. By turns a fantasy adventure and a thoughtful examination of relationships, this radiant gem stands alone, but expect readers to be impatient for the rest of the trilogy.–Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN
*Starred Review* Gr. 8-11. In this fierce, hypnotic novel, character, story, and the thrumming forces of magic strike a rare, memorable balance. Reason is both the name of its 15-year-old Australian protagonist and a badge of defiance: Reason's mother champions rationality and deplores witchcraft, especially the "smoke and mirrors" practiced by her own mother, Esmeralda. When Reason's mom plunges into insanity and Reason must go to stay with Esmeralda, the wary teen, armed with only her survival instincts and a lucky ammonite fossil, attempts to stave off her grandmother's witchy influences. Then she steps through a door in Esmeralda's kitchen and emerges in New York City. There, as she grapples with the undeniable evidence that "magic is real," she is drawn into a terrifying entanglement with a cruel older witch. Reason's prickly first-person voice alternates with that of Esmeralda's gentle apprentice, Tom, and Reason's tough New York friend, the magically gifted Jay-Tee. The teens' distinct, frequently contradictory narratives intensify readers' concern for Reason and their desire to understand her circumstances. Readers looking for layered, understated fantasy will follow the looping paths of Larbalestier's fine writing, as graceful and logical as the coiled chambers of Reason's ammonite, with gratitude and awe. Jennifer Mattson
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Top customer reviews
Believing her mother, distrusting her grandmother, Reason hides in Esmeralda's house. The girl refuses to eat Esmeralda's food, refuses to speak to her and shuts herself in a bedroom until her grandmother goes out. Then, she explores the house, planning to escape as soon as possible. She finds a key and uses it on the only locked door in the home, opening it and stepping through. Outside she is in New York city in the middle of winter. Magic IS real. And she is capable of wielding it.
But I won't spoil the story for you. It is a wonderful story, and Reason a delightful teenager, full of strengths and normal insecurities. I will tell you, however, that this novel doesn't flinch away from the issues of power and corruption, as many other young adult novels do. Instead it portrays the way the pursuit of power affects relationships. The novel's "good' characters are strong and honest, yet still flawed, and the "bad" characters are deceptively charming, just as they are in the real world. And much too close for Reason to protect herself without help.
I do think this is a novel that is worth reading more than once, and I also look forward to the two sequels. From their reviews, it's clear they don't disappoint, either.
A perfect book for young teens, of both sexes, and adults. Justine Larbalestier is a wonderful talented new author. You won't be disappointed starting this series.
The best quality of the book is the magic system. Some people are born with the ability to use magic (it runs in families), but every time they use magic they shorten their life span, so most magic users die young – often around twenty. The catch? If you’re born with the ability to use magic and don’t, you’ll go mad.
It’s a wonderful conundrum that should have lead to a great book. Unfortunately, the heroine, Reason, doesn’t know magic is real and doesn’t find out about the predicament she’s in as someone born with the ability until pretty far into the book.
As a result, the idea gets little exploration. That likely changes in the latter books in the series, but Magic or Madness suffered from it.
Magic or Madness is about Reason Cansino, a girl who has spent her life wandering the Australian outback with her mother, Sarafina, hiding from her grandmother. Sarafina has always told Reason that her grandmother his dangerous – she’s a crazy, violent woman who believes that magic is real. When Sarafina suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is forced to move in with her grandmother, and she finds out that magic is real after all.
I should have liked Reason. She has admirable pluck and intelligence (I like how she’s so good with numbers), but she often came off as younger than her fifteen years. Possibly it was a combination of her upbringing and her complete lack of knowledge about her magical heritage, but she read as naive for most of the middle section of the book.
Another thing about Magic or Madness – it’s short. While it’s 304 pages, it’s a short 304 pages. I was able to start and finish it within a couple hours. While on one hand, I like being able to have a quick read, on the other I think the brevity characterized how some of the issues in the book weren’t deeply explored.
Overall, I probably won’t be reading any more of the series, but if I happen to run into the sequel at the library, I may pick it up.