After a magical muse seems to have abandoned a small Utah town, it is up to a grieving boy, his best friends, and a stray dog to find out where it has gone and how to bring it back in this lyrical and hopeful story.
Harrison Boone used to sing. His mom was a famous soprano who performed in all the great theaters. But when she died unexpectedly last year, the music stopped for Harrison too. He finds comfort in practicing magic tricks to become a master magician.
If only Harrison knew the right magic to stop his dad from hitting the road for a new job and sending him to live with his aunt Maggie in an art village named Muse in the southern Utah desert. The residents of Muse believe in a magical entity that used to grant wishes to the winner of the town's annual art contest, but the muse hasn't been seen in years.
Can Harrison connect with his inner artist, find the missing muse, and win the wish that will give him back a normal life?
An Excerpt fromTips for Magicians
Tip One: Never Repeat a Trick
You never really know if you’re ready to perform a magic trick until you give it a try. I shuffle the cards and think through the steps of this new trick one more time. The sunlight shines through the living room windows, creating boxes of light on the blue carpet. I remember Mom wanted to replace that blue carpet.
Kennedy, who isn’t my babysitter, pours what’s left in her cup of water into the soil of Mom’s withering houseplant. I have been watering it, and I put it in the sun every morning. I’ve done that for a year, but right now it’s not doing well.
“Maybe we should pick up some plant food from the garden store,” she says, giving the plant a look of pity. People look at me that way sometimes. It makes me want to change the subject.
“Maybe we should go to the pool,” I say, shuffling my cards again. I use the overhand technique.
Kennedy smiles. “Harrison, your skin is still sunburned from the last time I took you and your friends swimming.”
I look from her dark-brown skin to the bright-pink tint all over my white arms. “I’ll wear more sunscreen.”
Kennedy is starting college at the end of the summer. She’s practically a grown-up. She has a car and a job working for her mom’s talent agency. But even though Kennedy is like six years older than me, she’s one of my best friends. And she’s been hanging out with me a lot since Mom died last year.
“Mmm,” she says, sitting on the couch and checking her phone. “Maybe I’ll just put my feet in.” She glances up and gives me a serious expression. “But you and the guys have to promise not to splash me.”
“Okay,” I say. Kennedy’s black hair is smooth and much straighter than it was the last time we went to the pool. She’s told me that it takes a long time to get her hair done that way. “Are you ready for this one?” I hold up my deck of cards.
She sets her phone down. “Ready. What is this trick called?”
“Topsy Turvy Cards.”
I use the coffee table, and Kennedy watches as I spread out the cards, to show they’re all facing the same direction. She looks at the cards and then at me. I think she’s wondering if I’ll give away the secret.
I follow the steps as I remember them, turning the cards over in my hand like the video showed. I make it seem like I’ve turned half of the stack faceup and half of the stack facedown. But by passing a “magic” card through the center of the deck, suddenly the cards are all the same direction again.
Kennedy grins. “Wow, Harrison. I totally didn’t see how you did that,” she says.
“Is that sarcasm?” I let out an awkward laugh.
“No, not at all. I don’t know how you did it.” She leans forward. “Lemme see it again.”
I gather up my cards in one hand. “No way.”
This is a test. I’m sure of it.
“A magician never repeats a trick,” I say.
“Because?” She raises one eyebrow.
Yeah, she was testing me. Kennedy knows what happened last time I showed a card trick to Creed and a few of the other kids at karate.
“Because someone will figure out your secret and ruin the mystery.”
Kennedy pumps her open hands toward the ceiling. “I think he’s got it!”
The air-conditioning clicks on and blows the curtains by the sliding glass doors. Sometimes, when the air is blowing from the vents, I still smell whispers of Mom’s hairspray and perfume.
“But can I make one suggestion?” Kennedy pulls out her phone again and motions for me to come closer.
“Sure,” I say.
Kennedy types the words magician persona in a search on her phone. I’ve been watching YouTube tutorials for how to do these card tricks, but I’ve never seen those words together before.
“You and I know a lot about show business because of our moms, right?” Kennedy’s mom was my mom’s talent agent and friend. I like how Kennedy brings up my mom in regular conversation, like it’s no big deal. When Dad talks about Mom--or I mention her in front of him--it feels like a big deal.
“Well . . . you know about show business from both of your parents,” she says, waving her hand like that wasn’t her point. “What I’m saying is, to be a good magician, you’ve got to bring in some performance quality to your tricks.”
“Okaaay,” I say. “Like what?”
“Look here.” Kennedy shows me the website for a stage magician named Leo Abbott. “This says, ‘A magician persona is a character you play as the magician. Your audience might be impressed by how well you do the magic tricks, but you add to the wonder by the way you present yourself.’ ”
I read the list on her screen. “ ‘Magicians can be mysterious, scary, funny . . .’ ”
“ ‘Decide on your style, and then perform with the trick,’ ” Kennedy says. She drops her phone on the couch and points across the room toward the fireplace. “Go over there like you’ve just walked onstage in front of a huge audience. They are waiting. A completely silent crowd, holding their breath in anticipation. Waiting for your magic.”
I’ve learned not to argue with Kennedy. She’s usually right anyway.
I take my deck of cards and stand in front of the fireplace, facing her.
“Now, who are you? You feel those stage lights warm your face. The music is quiet. It’s just you: a magician and your cards.”
I take a deep breath. I can’t imagine I would ever be in front of a huge audience. Kennedy widens her eyes at me, and I start laughing.
“You’re making this too serious,” I say.
She smiles. “Okay, so maybe you’re a comedic magician. You make people laugh with your tricks.”
“I don’t think so. I just feel weird standing here like this.”
“Face the other way, then. Pretend I’m not here. Imagine performing as a magician. How will you act?”
I turn toward the fireplace. The hearth still has a clay sculpture on it that Mom made. She thought it was terrible, and only made it because her sister, Maggie, was visiting, and Aunt Maggie gets everyone to try art projects. The sculpture is supposed to be me and Mom together. I asked to keep it, even though she didn’t think it was very good. The memory feels heavy enough to make my shoulders slump. It makes me feel like I don’t want to go swimming or see my karate friends today.
Suddenly, I know what my magician person-thing will be. It’ll be mysterious and keep my audience from knowing too much. It will be impressive and confident. It will push away this sad feeling.
“Harrison?” Kennedy says. “Don’t make it too hard. You can try out some different ways.”
I think of all the times I saw Mom perform onstage. Even when I watched her from the wings, I noticed what Kennedy is talking about. Mom had a way of being bigger and braver than her usual self when she was in front of an audience.
I can be like that.
I turn back toward Kennedy and give her a smile.
“What will you call your magician self?” she asks.
That one is easy. “Harrison”--I pause for effect--“the Magnificent.”
Tip Two: Choose a Good Magician Name
“Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green . . .” Mom sat on the edge of my bed and sang.
“Mom?” I lifted my head from my pillow and interrupted her. “How can lavender be blue and green? Isn’t lavender light purple?”
“It’s referring to the lavender plant, Harry.”
She continued the song. “When you are king, dilly dilly, I shall be queen . . .”
Mom’s voice was what the reviewers called “a clean, clear soprano that rises from the stage and takes audiences to the heavens with it.” Or something like that. Some people said her voice was magical. To me, though, Mom’s voice was the sound of home.
“Who told you so, dilly dilly,” she sang, “who told you so?”
I joined her on the last part, my voice able to match her notes.
“’Twas my own heart, dilly dilly, that told me so.”
Mom leaned over and kissed my forehead. She smelled like peaches and lime-flavored lip balm. She hadn’t washed off her stage makeup, and her long eyelashes tickled my face.
She tucked the sheets around me and whispered, “Never stop singing, Harry. It’s a gift.”
I sighed and nodded, too sleepy to answer. I’d waited up for her, something I always did on her show nights, so we could have a good-night song before bed. She always met with her audiences and signed autographs after her shows, but she kept the meet and greets short and hurried home to sing me to sleep. That was our thing. That was Mom.
She sang one more song--one from her show. It was called “You Are.” I closed my eyes and listened, happy to have her home.
“I sang that at the Red Cliffs Amphitheater the summer we lived in Muse,” she said. “Do you remember?”
I was only five when we were there, but I still remembered a few things about that summer in the Utah art village. I remembered walls of red rocks and the buzzing of bugs in the desert. I had made a friend named Chloe, and I remembered that, too.
I was getting sleepy. “Yes,” I whispered.
“That place is full of magic, Harrison. We’ll go back to visit again sometime.”
“Okay,” I mumbled.
“Good night, Harrison the Magnificent.”
Mom often called people names that sounded like magicians. So I was Harrison the Magnificent, and Dad was Calvin the Incredible.
“Good night, Mom.”
Kennedy drops me off at home after karate, like she does every Tuesday and Thursday. I wave at her from the porch as she backs her car out of the driveway.
“Put some ice on that elbow!” she calls out the car window.
My elbow got bent back a little too far in a move called Breaking Twigs today. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it in front of Creed and the rest of the class, but now, it’s pretty sore.
I wave at Kennedy with my good arm. “I will!”
“And tell your dad!” she adds.
I nod at that one. Kennedy keeps nudging that Dad and I need to “communicate.” Dad doesn’t say much, so I guess I don’t, either. But we used to have a lot of fun together.
I push the front door open and lug my karate bag inside.
“How was class?” Dad asks from behind his laptop on the living room couch. He’s home a little early from his job at the National Theatre in Washington, DC.
“It was fine,” I say, not wanting to bother him about my elbow. “How was work?”
Dad runs his hand over his unshaven face. He sometimes goes days without shaving--just one of many things that’s changed since Mom died. “We need to have a talk as soon as I finish this.”
“Okay.” I can’t tell if this is good or bad news. I leave my bag by the door, holding my throbbing elbow. Dad didn’t used to work all the time. We used to go hiking along the Potomac in the fall. In the hot summer months, he always found time to take me kayaking at Lake Ridge Marina. But not this summer. I’ve missed time with Dad. It’s weird to miss someone who is still here.
I grab my deck of cards off the top of the dusty piano and practice my one-handed cut. My hands are still a bit too small to cut the deck, spin the top section, and put it back together with only one hand. But I’m getting better at it.
“I’ll be back,” I say as I head to the kitchen.
I pocket my cards and grab a bag of peas from the freezer. I return to the living room with the frozen peas on my sore elbow and sink into the orange armchair. Dad closes his laptop.
“I wanted to ask you . . .” He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He stares at the glass coffee table as though he might develop superpowers and cut through it with his laser vision. “What would you think about going to visit Aunt Maggie?”
“Aunt Maggie? Really?” Of all the things to follow the words “We need to have a talk,” I didn’t expect something this great.
My aunt owns an art gallery in a town called Muse, where we lived that summer Mom had a performing contract there. It’s in the southern Utah desert, and people come from all over the world to tour the national parks and hike the red cliffs. Aunt Maggie has come to visit us a few times, too. The last time we saw her was at Mom’s funeral, but even then, it was comforting to have her around.
“Yes! Dad, that would be awesome!” If we went to Utah, Dad and I could go on those amazing hikes, and he’d have time to do things with me again.
Dad doesn’t seem as excited as he should be. I’m about to remind him about the parks and the hikes when he says, “Well . . . there’s an opening in the Dorian Striker show, and they’ve asked me to stage-manage.”
Dorian Striker is a performer that Mom and Dad knew before I was born, when Mom was touring as a professional singer and Dad was her stage manager. Dorian Striker plays guitar and sings. He has a full band and big sets and special effects. I saw ads for his show on TV just last month.
Dad still stares at the smudged, dusty glass of the coffee table. I don’t remember the last time we used a cleaner on that glass. “It’s a national tour, Harrison.”
I know right away what this means. Mom used to tour before I was born. It wasn’t a life like I have, with a colonial-style house and Christmas wreaths in the windows and a backyard forest. It was a life of different cities every week, sometimes terrible food, hotel beds, lots of vitamin C, and lots of travel.
“Oh.” My fingers are icy from holding the bag of peas. My skin burns with the cold, but it gives me something else to feel besides the thumping in my chest. Dad didn’t mean he would be coming to visit Aunt Maggie with me.
“Life on tour isn’t something I want for you. But I also don’t want you to be alone so much.”