Some Small Magic
Abel Shifflett is in a world of hurt. It’s the end of the school year, his last year at the elementary school. Normally, summer vacation would be an exhilarating time. But Abel --- kind, gentle, lover-of-magic tricks Abel --- finally found a way (a trick, but not a magic one) to get back at vicious bully Chris Jones. And in return, sick and humiliated Chris has made Abel a promise that Abel knows will be kept: Chris is going to kill him.
The certainty that Chris will indeed keep that ugly promise isn’t the only thing causing Abel pain. Abel’s quick mind and big heart are trapped in a body that breaks easily and often. Brittle bones disease makes Abel unable to pursue common childhood pleasures, such as riding a bike or playing touch football. Tripping and falling over a rock in a field put him in a cast with a broken arm (with itches inside that he’s desperate to scratch). He’s had a history of broken bones that first cast suspicion on his mother, Lisa (the townspeople were convinced that he was being abused), until the disease was finally diagnosed.
"SOME SMALL MAGIC is sweet, terrible, truthful and breathtaking.... [A]part from Zach and Allie from IN THE HEART OF THE DARK WOOD, I’ve never loved a Coffey character as much as I love Abel."
Abel has grown in a delicate body that hasn’t always healed correctly from the injuries and breakages that everyday life has handed him. That body doesn’t look quite right either, and because of this, he doesn’t have a lot of friends. He really only has one: Dumb Willie, a grown fellow with a huge heart and a child’s mind. Willie doesn’t have any friends either, but he and Abel are devoted to one another. And Abel’s dad, who surely would love and protect his son? His mom told him that the train-driving man died. But Abel finds letters hidden in their home, addressed to him. Maybe he isn’t dead after all.
As you’ll find in any good Billy Coffey story, both beauty and horror are waiting just around the corner for Chris, Willie and Abel. The school’s principal, who is sympathetic to Abel, encourages Lisa to take her son to the healing and revival service that an itinerant preacher is holding. Abel doesn’t get healed, but he does get an odd directive word from the man that sets him on a course to find a treasure and his reward. After a run-in with Chris (and this one doesn’t kill him, though Chris certainly tries), Abel devises a plan. Behind his house are train tracks, and the daily and nightly trains that he loves run there faithfully. He decides that he’ll jump the train when it comes by that night with Willie and head off on a quest to find his treasure --- and he hopes to locate his missing dad as well.
But before he can get on the moving train, Chris comes over to make good on his death threat and starts the beating. Willie arrives in time to save Abel, and throws him up on the train into an empty boxcar. A beautiful girl in the car grabs Willie’s hands and hauls him in. And their adventure begins --- one that will take them searching for miracles, in the hopes of finding them, and satisfying their deepest longings…if they can just survive the journey.
SOME SMALL MAGIC is sweet, terrible, truthful and breathtaking. I have loved all of Coffey’s books as each one is worth savoring. But apart from Zach and Allie from IN THE HEART OF THE DARK WOOD, I’ve never loved a Coffey character as much as I love Abel. Despite the absolutely hopeless conditions of his life and health, Abel believes magic can happen, and with a child’s belief he goes out on a dangerous journey to search for the most wonderful magic of all. In the end, he just might find it.
Reviewed by Melanie Reynolds on March 24, 2017