So there is a lot going on here. A lot. How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days covers a ton of ground – from teen romance / angst to magic 101 to divorce drama to a weird latchkey kid subplot to trust…almost too much.
It almost succeeds.
In brief, this is the story of Bryant Adams, 17, who, along with his best friend Devon, finds a prototype magic Hitchhiker’s Guide. This wreaks some havoc, places them at the center of a magical civil war and/or revolution, and causes no end of trouble. Sucked into that vortex are Bryant’s mother, his high school drama department, his not-a-girlfriend-crush-kinda Elizabeth, and the entire magical community of New York (possibly the world? unsure…). Never let it be said this isn’t an ambitious book.
But it might be too ambitious. The price paid for this is a lack of developed characters, lack of growth, lack of interesting sidelines, a somewhat implausible collection of reactions to the impossible, and a feeling you are on rails the entire time. Yes, it is a novel, so obviously you are on the author’s rails, but truly great fiction doesn’t feel like you’re on those rails. This does – at no point did I feel there was another possible outcome to any situation. I hoped for it whilst reading, but once done, there was only the one result. It just never felt like a near thing. This may be the result of Bryant being too much of a chosen one, and not enough of a reluctant hero. He doesn’t exactly fail…ever. He does have failures due to not understanding the rules, but once understood, he just moves from success to success.
His companions are important, if sometimes vaguely so. The ability to see through veils / glamour is useful, and used well. I didn’t find the ‘I’ve always been afraid of the dark because I saw what was really there’ explanation original or even believable. Someone who makes it to high school with fear of the monster they see in the closet would likely either be medicated into a coma or committed to an asylum. Best-Friend-Devon exists to serve as a foil for the insecure Bryant, as he is the amazingly outgoing sort, who spends his days flirting with (more?) everyone in sight. He is so loyal he makes Golden Retrievers look bad, and is just all around perfect. Which is a bit much. Elizabeth is the goddess-love interest-perfect girl who is shoved together with Bryant because she needs to pass a math class, or her father will forbid her from participating in the theater stuff. She is also too good to be believed, once complaining that he never noticed her…despite the repeated passages about how much he stares at her every move. Bryant, on the other hand, is mopey, depressive, and generally a drag. Well, except for the stupidly rich father who gave him a credit card. Because dad is super-rich. Like, penthouse overlooking Central Park that he never lives in rich. These characters are fairly shallow, and don’t seem to develop much, if at all.
What is done well is the basic story. I like the ‘I found X, and can use it, and now what’ story. If you think about it, that can describe some of my favorite stories – Last Starfighter, Krull, Dragonslayer, Star Wars… That is a fun trope to play with. But here, it is just a trope. It loses a lot of the wonder (which fits the story), but never seems to fill that void with much of anything. I get it – the results are somewhat more horrifying than wondrous, but the kid is doing magic…and feels no awe? No wonder at that new world he just found? And same for the friends…there isn’t much down time, but none of it is spent wondering at the suddenly expanded universe.
That lack of wonder suffuses the book. All through it, the only wonder we see is when the girl actually likes the boy. And even then, it isn’t much wonder. Just enough to remind you it is there, and then on with the story. And blase acceptance of magic. Heck, there is barely an eyeblink when we find out Bryant has access to effectively unlimited funds. Just an ‘oh, this is on you then’. Come on – rent a car, take an Uber to Jersey, G6 to LA – something creative to flee the bad guys. Especially when you are supposed to be creative kids.
But no, we mostly walk or cab around New York.
There is a lot of promise here. A lot. And a lot of room to expand the story. Sadly, this is not a great start. What it has in potential, it loses in a lack of wonder and depth of character.