While Natalie Andrewson's cover art is the first thing that drew me to Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner, the plot that focused on a magical family and the passing on of power, along with a biracial girl's struggles against favoritism and sexism, I was hooked. And, while this description sounds pretty weighty, Magaziner's magical world is bursting with playful craziness and eccentric characters.
The protagonist of Wizardmatch is Lennie Mercado is twelve years old, the daughter of a Filipino father and a magical mother. In her mom's family, magical abilities are genetic although severely limited. Lennie and her ten-year-old brother Michael are both able to go invisible - but only for a matter of seconds. But Lennie is working on this, convinced she can improve upon her powers, which she will need when she, her brother and mother are summoned to Netherly for a Wizardmatch. Netherly is the magicians-only world where Poppop, also known as Mortimer de Pomporromp, is the acting Prime Wizard (and possessor of unlimited magic) of his family, having beat out his siblings and cousins for this honor in a Wizardmatch decades ago. Deciding it is time to retire, Poppop has called his eight children (Philips 1, 2 and 3, Lacey, Tracy, Stacy, Macy and Bob) and his seventeen grandchildren to battle on the grounds of Pomporromp Castle. However, recognizing the damaging aspects of the Wizardmatch - particularly the way that the familial competition creates a lot of bad blood, he decides that only one child from each family will be chosen to compete and, as per tradition, no children over the age of 15 can compete.
Of course, this decision leads to its own kind of chaos and bad feelings, especially when, making use of her sixteen seconds of invisibility, Lennie overhears Poppop counseling her mother to choose Michael over Lennie because, "Michael is more like me. And I want someone like me t be the next Prime Wizard. Lennie? Well, she's a sweet girl, but she's just . . . not right. She doesn't have that Prime Wizard look." Recognizing that she is defeated before she has even had a chance to compete, Lennie storms off into the no-man's land between wizarding estates where she meets Poppop's brother, Uncle Humphrey, who opens her eyes to some possibilities as well nudging her to make some dangerous decisions.
While she doesn't get to compete, Lennie does get to save the day, and her family, while also having her moment with Poppop - a moment that opens his eyes to the inherent unfairness of the way power is handed down in their family. And, best of all, Lennie and Michael emerge from the competition closer than before and dedicated to working together to expand their magical powers. And, although I focused on the more serious aspects of Wizardmatch here, it is also a very fun book packed with swimming pools filled with chocolate pudding (Poppop's favorite), and entire floor of castle that is covered with sticky jelly, a Garden of Goulash (the ground is covered in Hungarian Goulash but, being next to the graveyard, no one dares eat it) an a talking cat named Sir Fluffington the Fourth and a three-headed shark.
Wizardmatch works on two levels, although reading Magaziner's acknowledgements in which she thanks the powerful women role models from her life, especially Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is, "persistently strong and gracious and unwavering in the face of outrageous sexism," I hope that readers will see this as more than a book about a family competition. Having grown up in a family with roots in Italian culture, I was aware from an early age of the ways in which the boys of the family were favored and Wizardmatch hit some powerful notes for me and made me think in ways I hope readers will think.
Source: Review Copy