I feel that I should start out by saying that this book is not like The Phantom Tollbooth. A lot of the advance reviews I read compare The Wrong Side of Magic to Norman Juster’s childhood classic, but I think if you go into this book expecting it to be the next Phantom Tollbooth, you’ll be pretty disappointed. Which would be a shame because The Wrong Side of Magic is actually a charming little book.
Hudson’s neighbor Charlotte is odd. So he’s pretty annoyed when Charlotte convinces his little sister that the only way to cure her sick cat is to use Charlotte’s magical compass to travel to the world of Logos and collect the enchanted catflower that grows there. But when Hudson uses the compass himself, he discovers that Charlotte was telling the truth: Logos is real, and if he’s going to navigate the world of words and get rid of that nasty troll curse he managed to pick up, Hudson’s going to have to team up with Charlotte. Charlotte, though, is on a mission of her own: to restore the vanished Princess to the throne and get rid of the evil usurper Prince Varygran once and for all. Along the way, they’ll run into punctuation markets, marauding encyclopedias, unicorns, mermaids, magic, and more.
This is a fun quest story with lots of playful puns and clever wordplay. The land of Logos obviously owes a little debt to Dictionopolis and The Phantom Tollbooth, but it’s its own place with its own rules and inhabitants. Hudson is a pretty typical male protagonist, determined to fill his deployed father’s shoes by taking care of his mom and sister, while Charlotte has a Luna Lovegood wackiness that balances his seriousness well. They make a good team, putting together clues and braving hazards in their quest to save the kingdom of Logos from its evil ruler, always just a few steps ahead of his relentless army, and the evolution of their relationship—from reluctant allies to firm friends—rings true. Some of the scenes are hilarious word nerd fun (like the market scene where Charlotte and Hudson are looking for a word snack to share, and Charlotte explains they can’t share “to explore” since you can’t split infinitives).
The verdict: The Wrong Side of Magic would be a great family readaloud on its own with the bonus of launching fun conversations about language and grammar.
AMY SHARONY is the founder and editor-in-chief of home | school | life magazine. She's a pretty nice person until someone starts pluralizing things with apostrophes, but then all bets are off.