Dawn McNiff – Worry Magic

dawnmcniff-worrymagicCourtney is a worrier – she’s worried about EVERYTHING, from her parents arguing to her gran being in hospital.

Then, when her mum and dad start arguing AGAIN, Courtney begins to feel a bit funny… a bit woozy … a bit like a dream is coming on … and then afterwards, everything has been magicked better!

But what is causing the magic?

And is it really magic at all?

The title for Dawn McNiff’s latest offering immediately caught my attention as I’m very much a worrier by nature and I’ve had to learn to curb the tendency to be able to function. So the idea that worrying might have a magical application was intriguing. But while Courtney’s worry magic is never discounted outright, at least not all elements of it are explained, Worry Magic is very much a contemporary middle grade novel, not a fantasy. 

Courtney worries about a lot of things and she has the kind of magical thinking common to children, that as long as they’ve thought of a possible bad thing, then it won’t happen. This leads to her endlessly going over everything trying to think of every permutation of an event; an exhausting prospect for anyone, but when Courtney’s life becomes increasingly worry-ridden due to her parents’ failing marriage, her gran’s hospitalisation, and her best friend’s seeming drawing away, Courtney’s worrying spins out of control. The issues Courtney worries about are not just relatable to the book’s middle grade audience, but to all readers.

I related very much to Courtney’s sense of responsibility for making things all right and taking care of everyone, as I had similar feelings at the time of my own parents’ divorce—I’m sure I’m not the only one who shares that experience. As such Worry Magic was both a really easy book to read and a really hard one. It was an easy read, as it offered recognition and I think that is important for any child in a similar situation, showing them that they are not responsible for the adults in their lives. What simultaneously made it a hard read, for me at least, was the fact that it was hard to keep my own experiences out of the reading and my judgement of the various characters, especially Courtney’s parents.

What made Courtney’s parents hard to deal with for me, was their complete obliviousness to how their fighting affected their children. An effect that was exacerbated by the fact that Courtney’s gran, the person who is usually able to deflect some of it, is in the hospital. This obliviousness is most clearly demonstrated through their assumption that Courtney’s anxiety attacks are due to worrying about her gran, not her parents’ fighting. Instead it is Courtney’s big brother Kyle who sees what’s happening to Courtney and in his own way tries to help her. I loved the relationship between Kyle and Courtney. They might fight as all siblings do, but there is a deep and abiding love even if they never actually say it. Kyle’s reaction to their parents’ fighting is also the opposite from Courtney’s; where she tries to intervene every time, he retreats, first into his games and later literally to his room. They need each other to balance this out—Kyle learns to intervene and Courtney needs to learn to let go. I loved the siblings’ arc and to me they were the most wonderful part of the book.

What I found troublesome is the depiction of Bex, Courtney’s rival for her best friend Lois’ affection, who is portrayed as a mean girl and a bully. While I understand that making Bex a clear adversary is the fastest way to explain Courtney’s fear of separation from Lois, it felt a little easy. Learning that friendship isn’t a zero sum game is something that everyone has to learn at some point and usually this isn’t because the new party is a bully. It would also have made Courtney’s perceptions of Bex a little less reliable, which would fit in with her general narrative in the book and would avoid the stereotype of the bitchy mean girl.

There is a humorous tone to McNiff’s writing even when dealing with difficult, emotional issues. Yet the narrative, told from Courtney’s first person POV, is also a little unreliable. Because while Courtney believes she can actually influence events by her worry magic, how truly magical is it? Or is it more a case of people reacting to her anxiety attacks? Adults and older teen readers will pick up on the subtext quite quickly, before Kyle spells it out for Courtney later in the book. Which leaves much of what we read up to the interpretation of the reader, how much is truth and how much is Courtney’s perception? Is her mother the bigger problem in the marriage? Is Bex really such a mean girl? Does Kyle truly not care? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others.

Worry Magic was a good read. Charming and relatable, Dawn McNiff tells a wonderful story of a girl learning she doesn’t have to shoulder the world’s problems on her own and that sometimes asking for help is all you can do. This is a great book for middle grade readers and young teens, especially those who tend to be worriers themselves. I know I would have devoured Worry Magic when I was Courtney’s age. In fact, I devoured it even if I’m far past Courtney’s age.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.