The Spell Book of Listen by Jaclyn Moriarty
Reviewed by Ruya
I discovered this book in an airport, desperate to have something to entertain me during the long flight. Even though it was the only book that I hadn't read which looked halfway decent in the small airport bookstore, I was hesitant to read it, because I had read one of the author (Jaclyn Moriarty)'s previous books, The Year of Secret Assignments, and didn't like it all that much. It had a good plot, but I didn't like the author's style. But upon opening the book on the plane (despite the author's warning not to read it in a public place, since "laughing, crying, emphatic nodding, and other forms of public disruption may ensue") I found myself pleasantly surprised. Since then, it has become one of my favorite books.
It's hard to say who the main character is in the book. You could say it was Listen Taylor, a smart but quiet and inexplicably friendless girl, because she's the one who is in the title, and she's the one who effects the major changes. But you could also say it was about Cassie Zing, Listen's friend, and the niece of the woman Listen's dad is dating. Or it could be about Fancy Zing, Cassie's mother, a constantly dreaming writer. It could also be about her sister Marbie, or it could be about Cath Murphy, who seemingly has no relation to the Zing family or Listen, except that she's Cassie's elementary school teacher. I guess they're all main characters, because the book follows all of them through their various struggles and triumphs, romances and break ups, all of which are resolved, or made worse, by the curious spell book which Listen found one day, leading up to a totally unexpected conclusion.
One thing I really like about the book is that it's so cleverly written. Each of the individual spells Listen does, from 'A Spell to Make Someone Decide to Take a Taxi' to 'A Spell to Make Someone Catch a Cold,' seem like silly, trivial things, but they have such huge impacts on the lives of the characters, directly or indirectly. Things that you pass off as puzzling and unimportant, like the phrase "How is your ocean bream, my love?" which often goes through Fancy's head, and the fact that every product and movie that is mentioned just happens to be made by the Valerio company, turn out to have actual significance. The individual stories of the characters are alternately heartwarming and heart breaking, and the constant mystery of the Zing Family Secret, as well as the eccentricity of the lovable characters in the Zing Family, keep you hooked. At the risk of sounding cliché, I will assure you that the warning Jaclyn Moriarty put on the inside cover of the book is very true. Laughing, crying, nodding emphatically (angry words at the characters may also have passed my lips), I did all of those while reading the book.