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The Secret Science of Magic


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About the Author

Melissa Keil is a writer, children's editor and compulsive book-buyer. She has lived in Minnesota, London and the Middle East, and currently resides in her hometown of Melbourne. Her debut young adult novel, Life in Outer Space, was published in 2013 - the inaugural winner of the Ampersand Prize, Hardie Grant Egmont's initiative for debut authors. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl was published in 2014 and was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers) and the Gold Inky. Say hello at or or find her on Twitter @MissMisch77


Another winner from Melissa Keil, this time involving a genius-level girl whose anxiety threatens to overwhelm her completely. Sophia suddenly finds herself spending time with history geek and nerd magician Joshua, and Keil explores the notions of timing, attraction, and of course, mental health through a thoroughly entertaining, diverse and satisfying story. A terrific Australian voice, Keil is consistent and authentic. No long review here, just all the love.

-- Trish Buckley * CBCA Reading Time *

Melissa Keil's The Secret Science of Magic is a heartwarming story. Keil avoids pigeonholing characters and issues. Here she considers diverse personalities and intelligences, while subtly touching on race.

Year 12 students Sophia and Joshua share the narrative. Sophia is a maths genius with an eidetic (photographic) memory. She seems to be at the higher end of the autism spectrum. People have always tried to "fix" her, so she's unsure how to be normal and has learned to be silent rather than embarrass herself. She's awkward but not shy, needs space, loves Doctor Who and can quote from Game of Thrones.

Joshua barely speaks at school. He is remarkable for his height and for hiding behind his messy hair. He does magic tricks and his longstanding but unnoticed interest in Sophia is kindled because she sees magic in maths.

He can't focus on things that don't interest him, so his academic studies are faltering. Outside school, though, he is a different person: he could never be overlooked and stands out "like a cosmic spotlight is following him".

He is friends with Camilla and Sam, characters who return from Keil's first novel, Life in Outer Space. Josh makes his move with magic tricks, leaving a two of hearts in Sophia's pencil case. He progresses to the grand romantic gesture of a flaming paper rose and screens a Doctor Who Christmas special on the vintage projector in biology.

Sophia starts to notice Josh "like a nebulous element in the universe that has suddenly become perceptible" but mistakes her symptoms of love for illness. He is encouraged by her willingness "to meander down our weird conversational rabbit holes" but is always aware of timing, the magician's fundamental tool, as he pursues the secret science of magic.

-- Joy Lawn * The Australian *

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