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The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

Review

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

Have you ever finished watching a movie and immediately wanted to start over again, to watch it again from the beginning because you finally "get it"? That's sort of like the experience of reading THE SPELL BOOK OF LISTEN TAYLOR, a magical, sprawling, complicated saga that will have you flipping pages back and forth, and back again, as you discover new angles, new delights and new connections that shed light on old mysteries.

Although she's far from the main protagonist (more on that later), the primary teenage character is Alissa (nicknamed Listen) Taylor, a seventh-grade girl who is so unsure of herself that she mysteriously repels all would-be friends. Profoundly lonely at school, Listen finds solace in only two places --- in her single father's new relationship with Marbie Zing and the resulting connections with the wonderfully quirky Zing family, and in her discovery of a secret "Spell Book."

Instructed by the opening pages to follow all the directions completely, Listen finds herself alternately loathing, loving and dismissing the Spell Book, ultimately trusting in its promise that "This book will make you fly, will make you strong, will make you glad. What's more, this book will mend your broken heart." When an infidelity pulls Marbie and Listen's father apart, Listen will need all the book's powerful spells to put their broken hearts back together again.

Infidelity, in fact, is one of the key themes in the book and ties together all the adult characters, from Marbie's sister Fancy and her husband Radcliffe to second-grade teacher Cath Murphy, whose connections with the Zing family become more and more apparent as the book progresses. Marital infidelity may seem like an odd theme for a young adult novel. In fact, THE SPELL BOOK OF LISTEN TAYLOR is an edited version of Jaclyn Moriarty's adult work of fiction, I HAVE A BED MADE OF BUTTERMILK PANCAKES, published in Australia in 2004. Not surprisingly, then, Moriarty spends just as much emotional energy (and many more pages) delving into her adult characters' dilemmas as she does on Listen's. Much of the humor is also directed at adults ("Warren confessed that he preferred the repetition of vowel sounds. He was more an assonance man").

This is not to say, however, that adept teen readers will not enjoy THE SPELL BOOK OF LISTEN TAYLOR. Moriarty's well-deserved reputation as a sophisticated writer for young adults is still on display here, and her depictions of Listen's perplexing friendlessness are among the most heartfelt in the book. At times, in fact, readers (adults and teens alike) may find themselves wishing for more insights into Listen's life, since the adult characters' immaturity and studied quirkiness can grow tiresome at times.

Readers young and old will especially enjoy discovering hidden clues about the real powers of Listen's Spell Book, which are revealed through the clever use of overlapping narratives that are staggered chronologically. As they discover these subtle connections, and as the novel's many, many plot threads, images and themes come together for a true fairy tale ending, more than one reader will be tempted to flip back to page one, to read it again from the beginning because they finally "get it."

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 1, 2007

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor
by Jaclyn Moriarty

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0439846781
  • ISBN-13: 9780439846783