Seven Spells is a young adults novel aimed at pre-teens. It is about two children in foster care – Monnie and Bim – who lead unhappy lives, being passed around from home to home.
They discover a mysterious letterbox with mail for them in the junkyard, and in the mail are magical trinkets. Each trinket comes with a vague clue as to it’s use, but otherwise the children have to figure it out for themselves. They discover they can use these trinkets to improve themselves and the lives of others around them.
But like all magic there is a dark side, and mysterious forces work against them, and they must overcome their faults and flaws and face the dark that threatens them.
Seven Spells was written in the late 70’s, and unfortunately, the language in this story dates it very quickly. Also, I know the children are nine or ten years old, but they seem portrayed as far less intelligent than one would think a child of this age would be – the main characters are often impressed or confused by seemingly simple things – but perhaps it was the 70’s and they were probably the product of alcohol and drug-filled conceptions from the 60’s. Or perhaps I’m being too hard on them.
By page fifty they are still thinking about the ‘mysterious letterbox’, though there is nothing to imply it is mysterious, except for the fact the kids don’t seem to be familiar with the colour purple. The plot runs thus: they find a trinket, some gimmick ensues, they find the next trinket, there are more gimmicks. Then there is suddenly – out of nowhere – an antagonistic figure that is defeated almost as quickly as she is introduced. Then the book has the fastest and most anticlimactic ending ever.
The trinkets themselves serve no actual function, other than a plot mechanism. The character development is almost negligible, and there is the pretense of a subplot around the kids worrying about being moved to another house, but this is merely aesthetic and not really explored much.
I haven’t read any of Norton’s children’s books except this one. The book lacked her usual mastery of prose and exposition that her science fiction and fantasy novels are known for. This book was also the debut of Phyllis Miller, an author whom I have struggled to find more information about, other than she graduated with a degree from the same University as Norton. I unfairly assume any fault in this book to be hers, as the book comes off amateurish and poorly written.
The story is, in itself, actually perfectly fine. It is quite a long novel for preteens, but a bit too childish for the young adult demographic it was marketed for. I didn’t enjoy this book much, but I am also a thirty year old reading a book written for children in the 70’s, so perhaps my opinions in this matter are irrelevant.
There have been many cultural and societal changes for children since the 70’s, and it is hard to take a story nearly four decades old and apply it to today’s children.
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