The Official Description: You do magic once, and it sticks to you like glitter glue…
When Johnny and his best friend, Alison, pass their summer holidays dabbling in magic, they never expect it to have consequences. Sure, it’d be great if they could banish bullies or change their lives for the better, and what harm could come from lighting a few candles and chanting a few spells? They get their answer in the form of an earthquake unleashed at their behest, which draws the attention of the Marduk Institute, an age-old organization dedicated to fostering the talents of young wizards.
Whisked away to the institute and told they can never return to their old lives, Johnny and Alison must quickly adapt to a new world shimmering with monsters, fraternities, and cute boys like Hunter and Blake. But when they’re pulled into a dark, supernatural fight that could cost them their lives, they’ll have to find strength they never knew they had as they battle for love, acceptance, and their own happy endings―all with the help of a little bit of magic.
My thoughts bit: First! The good stuff! This book was a lot of fun to read. The friendly/snarky banter between the characters gave me life and made me laugh out loud more than once.
Santoni has come up with a clever concept: in this world, the first time you use magic sparks a terrifying event. Anyone with magical ability is abducted and taken to an institute under the guise of being trained and protected. But, the reader finds out early on that’s not really what is going on. Basically, Johnny is abducted and incarcerated. The life he was taken from is basically wiped out: his family won’t remember him, and it will be as if he never existed.
The idea of young people being taken from their homes for something beyond their control and incarcerated rang a little bit true in light of what has been going on in the US recently.
There is a diverse group of characters in this novel. Johnny is a young gay Latinx teen with stretched earlobes, a fierce heart and a penchant for hilarious thoughts. I loved this own-voices character. He was authentic and funny, charming and bumbling. It was a joy to read about Johnny falling in love for the first time, and finding his way to courage in a crazy world.
Johnny’s best friend Ali is a trans woman. This character suffers the harsh cruelty of life with strength and dignity. I adored her friendship with Johnny and their devotion to one another.
Santoni has some great building blocks at the beginning of this novel. This is a magical world where magic is scientifically based (not unlike the world created by Victoria Lee in the Fever King). What I wanted to see explored more thoroughly was the unique clockwork structure of magic and how it was almost machinery-like. I felt as though I didn’t really get enough information to understand it as well as I wanted to.
The magical powers were a bit confusing to me. It was a random spell that ignited the latent abilities in Ali and Johnny and then there was really nothing further written in the novel about how the young Wizards learned how to do more magic… they just … did. That was a bit unsatisfying given how much of a great idea the clockwork magical world was.
There were a lot of pop culture references scattered throughout which I think may date the book prematurely. There were some times during the book when it felt a little bit like fanfiction to me. That won’t bother some people, but that always pulls me out of a story no matter how good it is.
All in all, this was a fun read with some really likable characters. It’s got a Gay wizard, monsters, epic battles, and a love story! What more could you want in a summer read? I will look forward to reading more by this author.
The warnings bit: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: homophobia, child abuse, physical assault, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trans hate speech, transphobia, graphic depiction of hate crime (assault), body shaming.
Readalikes: Other stories that are similar or give the same feel.
I received an ARC of I’m A Gay Wizard by V.S. Santoni from Wattpad Books via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.