The Premise: Erin Channing is a tenth-grader with the “most boring, normal, regular life ever”, until her aunt Kiki dies and leaves her a pink plastic ball with a set of cryptic instructions. Erin doesn’t believe in magic. She’s known as an “inside the box” thinker, but her two best friends, Lindsay and Samantha convince her to try the ball, and when it seems to actually get results, it begins to change Erin’s outlook.
My Thoughts: I liked Erin. She’s a good kid — that girl in school who works hard and listens to teachers. She follows the rules and has the highest GPA in tenth grade. But because she doesn’t really have any interests outside of school and doesn’t have any quirky traits, she considers herself boring. So boring, in fact, that she worries she has nothing interesting to say in her essay to apply for a coveted position for a school sponsored trip to Italy. And she really, really wants to go to Italy. Two things stand in her way – the essay, and making sure she gets at least an A- in the class.
Writing the essay is something Erin obsesses over, but she can’t think of anything interesting to say. She’s well aware of her “in the box”, “follow the rules” persona, but she doesn’t know how to get out of it, but her aunt’s death and the Pink Crystal Ball is a start. Her friends are the ones who push her into even trying it, and pointing out that she needs to expand her horizons. In the meantime, the A- grade in her AP Art History class also depends on her end of year project which is worth one third of her final grade. Unfortunately, she gets partnered with Jesse Cooper, the last person in class she wants to work with. Jesse used to be a close friend, until his father died at the end of eight grade. Suddenly, the guy who was her first kiss stopped talking to her and started dressing like an art school punk kid, leaving Erin wondering: “What happened?” and what Jesse’s neutral expressions and his offhand comments mean. It’s clear that she’s not exactly over the crush she had on him.
The story is full of thoughtful layers. Although Erin, Lindsay and Samantha seem to fit a particular mold at first (Erin is the brainy one, Lindsay is the nice one, and Samantha is the cool one), they aren’t cardboard characters. Each of them has their own lives and problems, which Erin explains as the story progresses. Lindsay has a bully at school, and her father has begun dating a young, twenty-something girl. To escape, she spends her money on new-age, metaphysical objects like voodoo dolls and crystals. Samantha is chasing after Aiden, a boy who can’t stand her, and her parents are always fighting. She may be the beautiful and cool rebel, but when coming home at 3am gets noticed by the Portuguese housekeeper, not her parents, you know there’s something wrong there. But these girls aren’t in their own personal bubble. They play off each other and affect one another”s lives. The dynamics of their friendships is laid out throughout the story, and the reader is catches glimpses of how well they know each other: when Lindsay is upset she’s known to take it out on whoever is nearby, Erin can’t stand disappointing authority, and Samantha knows how to get the girls to follow her lead.
This attention to detail extended to the plot. With a magic ball, the story could have become something that conveniently took shortcuts and relied on suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t. There are always consequences or reasons for what happens. The main focus of course is on Erin’s problems, and on how the pink plastic ball from her dead aunt begins to affect her life, but she is loyal to her best friends and tries to help them. These leads to consequences that the girls don’t expect. I liked that this story eventually led to some growth for everyone, rather than the it being just a entertaining romp involving magic. The ending left us with the possibility of a continuation, perhaps from Samantha’s point of view, and I’d love to find out what happens next.
Overall: Before reading this book, I think I had expectations that matched the cover – a story that’s young, a little girly, cute and fun. You know: a Disney movie aimed at teens with three best friends who discuss boys and do somewhat silly things and then work together to fix some problem. This book takes that formula but produces something with much more depth. I thought I would like this book, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it when I was done. It left me feeling much like I felt about Polly Shulman’s Enthusiasm: like I’d read something sweet but not fluff.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell – 3.75
(please let me know if you’ve reviewed this and I’ll add it to my list)
I have ONE extra copy of this book to giveaway (generously sent to me by a publicist). For a chance to win it:
1. Email janicu[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject PINK CRYSTAL BALL GIVEAWAY, and with “please enter me” or something like that, and that should be it.
2. One email per person please.
3. This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL
4. This contest ends midnight EST December 9th. — that’s three days from now!