Book Review: The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil

Book Review: The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil


Joshua is good at magic tricks, ignoring his homework, and not thinking about life after year twelve. He’s not so good at talking to Sophia, the genius in his class who he’s had a crush on for years. But with their time together in high school running out, he has to do something about it, soon – because if he’s learned one thing, it’s that timing is everything.

Sophia is smart enough to know that geniuses like her can end up as socially inept recluses. In fact, maybe she’s halfway there already, what with the panic attacks and her best (and only) friend Elsie drifting away. All Sophia can do is seek refuge in what she understands best: maths, science, logic. But there’s no logical explanation for the odd, almost magical things happening around her. And there are some things no amount of study can prepare you for…

Thanks Hardie Grant Egmont for sending Bookish Friends an ARC of The Secret Science of Magic.

We did review The Secret Science of Magic in a podcast. However, we have misplaced half of the recording and as a result, Diem hasn’t had a change to edit the podcast. Technology! #Timingiseverything and ours is terrible! However, we are on top of this and are trying to fix the problem as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this means the podcast episode will be uploaded later than expected.

For the review, Sarah and Diem both share the 5 reasons they loved The Secret Science of Magic.

Sarah loved…

Sam and Camilla

One of my favourite things about The Secret Science of Magic was getting to revisit Sam, Camilla and their friends from Life in Outer Space. I adored reading their story the first time (and on many, many subsequent rereads) and it was super cool to see how they’d grown since Life in Outer Space. I’d heard that they would be featuring in this book before I read it, so it didn’t come as a surprise, but from the first moment that they were introduced, I was delighted. It was interesting to see them all from a slightly more outside perspective, as it added more to their already fab characterisation. But mostly, it was nice to just revisiting them. It felt like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, and even though you see they’ve grown and matured, they’re still unmistakably themselves.

the Maths!

As someone studying physics, it makes me very happy to see characters who are as into science and maths as I am. I enjoy seeing characters who are creative and artistic, but I think we need more characters who are passionate about science. This meant that I deeply appreciated Sophia, who is a total maths whizz. She genuinely loves and is talented at maths, without the need for a “but I won’t be popular if I like maths!” storyline. I could ramble on about how weird I find society’s relationship with mathematics for ages, but I loved seeing maths (and science, to extent) presented in such a positive way, as something Sophia is passionate about.

the cute romance

The relationship that develops between Sophia and Josh is all sorts of lovely. I’m a sucker for a sweet, slow-burn romance that is as much about the characters growing close and becoming friends as it is about them falling for each other, and The Secret Science of Magic more than delivers. Melissa Keil toys with a couple of tropes and twists them in a way that was very clever. All the little illusions and magic tricks that Josh left for Sophia were a definite highlight and very sweet. I loved seeing them go from basically strangers to having such as caring, considerate and supportive relationship. Many warm fuzzies.

that Josh has a life and friends outside of school

I found myself really enjoying the fact that Josh’s social life isn’t limited to school. I think there is a tendency in YA (which is undoubtedly because it’s the case in real life as well) for school to be the character’s whole world. So when we were introduced to Josh’s circle of friends, who he has a great rapport with, I was very pleased. As well as providing a nice contrast with Sophia, who’s more caught up in school, I liked how it portrayed a sense of hopefulness about finding real friendships, even if it’s not at high school. The fact that Josh is different, more confident outside of school was a very positive addition to the story.

Melissa Keil’s writing

The best word I can think of to describe Melissa Keil’s prose is lively. Sparkling would work too. With The Secret Science of Magic, as with her other books, there’s this beautiful vitality to her writing that ultimately leaves you feeling uplifted. Dual POV novels are something I personally find can be a bit hit or miss, but in this case it worked so well, and I think was stronger than if the novel had all been from Sophia’s perspective.  Josh’s chapters were generally lighter-spirited than Sophia’s, so they added some really refreshing balance to the story. The humour is delightful, character development is spot on and even though The Secret Science of Magic didn’t quite beat Life in Outer Space for the title of My Favourite Melissa Keil Book, it further cemented her as one of the authors whose books I’m sure to read.

Diem loved…

the female friendship

The only thing I love reading more than swoon worthy or cute romances is solid female friendships! There are the bad, toxic ones and the ones that that where you yell ‘You are my rock!’ at a moving bus (yes, this is a reference to Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta). Sophia and Elsie’s friend falls under the latter. However, it’s also incredibly complicated as they are moving at different paces. It reminded me of my own complicated friendships and left me wanting Elsie as my best friend. I think we would get along like a house on fire.

the characters that were unsure about their future

Joshua is one of those people who are naturally intelligent but a complete slacker at school. It’s Year 12 and he still doesn’t have a clue what course he’ll do at university. Sophia is a child prodigy and is extremely concerned with what the future will hold for her – will she end up as a recluse or a complete weirdo? Or will she be able to soar? Reading about characters who are also unsure about the future make me feel like I don’t have to figure it all out just yet.

the diversity

The Secret Science of Magic is set in Melbourne so if there weren’t any people of colour, it wouldn’t be the Melbourne I know and love. Readers also expect to see diversity in the books they consume and rightly so, because the fictional worlds should reflect real life.

the mental health representation

Melissa Keil describes Sophia’s anxiety in a way that I found quite comforting and respectable. Reading about Sophia’s panic attacks was something that struck a chord with me. It was the best description of anxiety that I’ve read in a book in a while. Unfortunately, there’s stigma around mental health and I think any careful and respectable depiction of anxiety in fiction that prompts discussion is welcomed.

the sibling dynamics

I loved reading the scenes between Elsie and her brothers. Sophia’s relationship with her brother is very distant and awkward. By the end of the novel, they aren’t exactly happy families but their relationship has developed for the better. This pleased me greatly.

Sarah: 4.5/5

Diem: 4.5/5

Bookish Friends is the last stop on The Secret Science of Magic blog tour. Be sure to check out all the other reviews if you haven’t already.


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