Special thanks to Feiwel & Friends for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Goodreads: The Magical Imperfect
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date: 15 June 2021
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Etan has stopped speaking since his mother left. His father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. His friends have given up on him.
When Etan is asked to deliver a grocery order to the outskirts of town, he realizes he’s at the home of Malia Agbayani, also known as the Creature. Malia stopped going to school when her acute eczema spread to her face, and the bullying became too much.
As the two become friends, other kids tease Etan for knowing the Creature. But he believes he might have a cure for Malia’s condition, if only he can convince his family and hers to believe it too. Even if it works, will these two outcasts find where they fit in?
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TL;DR: Ultimately, while I might not recommend this for its disability rep, I appreciated the historical context and the representation of cultures and the immigrant perspective This was very different from what I expected after reading the blurb but I was pleasantly surprised by the nostalgic vibes it gave me. This did read a bit on the younger side of MG for me but I do think that it would be suitable and enjoyable for MG readers across all ages, even older readers such as myself.
This was a very different middle-grade read compared to what I normally pick up in this genre. It’s historical fiction but also has aspects of magical realism that leant the story an even more whimsical atmosphere. It’s written in verse and though the prose is simple and without unnecessary flair, it was also evocative and I could easily picture the neighbourhood form in front of my eyes. The community was diverse and there was a sense of camaraderie between all the neighbours that made the pages feel full of warmth and joy.
While I expected a touching story about the friendship between two young misfits, and we got that, it also went beyond that and there were many elements to the plot and setting that I didn’t expect to find—from religious to historical and cultural, and I was see it in a MG. I was intrigued by the late 80s setting in San Francisco and by the historical event that occurred during the time period of the story. What I found most refreshing though was seeing the Filipino representation in a historical setting and I was pleasantly surprised to read about the immigrant journey to America from a different (non-Western) perspective! Etan’s Jewish and Maia’s Filipina cultural heritage also played important roles in their story and as I grew up in the Philippines, I found reading about Maia’s family—her Lola and the food!—was comforting and made me a little nostalgic, too.
I found the friendship between Maia and Etan to be very sweet and full of youthful optimism and joy. As their bond grows closer, Etan finds the strength in his own voice again. Maia also finds joy in being able to have someone her age who doesn’t see her as “The Creature” but can look beyond her eczema to the loving, precocious and vibrant little girl she is. I really loved her sass and confidence, as well as her connection to nature and the trees surrounding her home.
Another aspect that I thought was interesting was the representation of Maia and Etan’s disabilities—severe eczema and selective mutism, respectively. I’ve never read a book with these disabilities represented (whether it be adult, YA or MG) so I found it interesting to read about and have it be part of these characters. However, what disappointed me was the use of the magical healing clay as a “cure” for these disabilities to make Maia and Etan ‘normal happy kids’. It made it seem like people with disabilities are not ‘normal’ and that you need to look and act like others to be happy. Yes, Maia wasn’t 100% ‘cured’ but the message is still the same and it’s not one that I would want any person to read and believe that they’re less than because they have a disability or live with chronic illness. The topic of mental health was also explored a bit through Etan’s mother but I wish it was done in more depth as it impacted Etan and his family so greatly.
Even though I didn’t end up loving it as much as I thought I would, it was still a quick, engaging and easy read. I loved the diversity and the historical context and in the future I’d be interested in seeing what else Baron has written.
Have you read The Magical Imperfect or is it on your TBR?