Goodreads: Ordinary Magic
Twelve-year-old Abby lives in a world where everyone possesses magic and even something as simple at turning the faucet requires magical ability. She cannot wait to attend her testing, where she will learn what level of magic potential she has. But testing day arrives and Abby discovers something terrible–she possesses no magic at all! Labelled an “Ord”, Abby becomes a social outcast within minutes. Her neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and even some of her family refuse to associate with her, fearing perhaps that her ordinariness will rub off. Worse, she is now a target for treasure seekers and other heroic questers who wish to buy her as a slave since magical traps cannot affect her. Fortunately, however, the new ruler wishes to end the historic prejudice against Ords and Abby is sent to school where she can learn to function in a magical society. But danger always lurks just outside the walls and the children will never truly be safe.
Ordinary Magic is surprisingly dark for a middle-grade fantasy. Indeed, it is one of the darkest ones I have ever read, not because it glorifies in violence or is in any recognizable sense an “issue” book, but simply because of the way it paints a bigoted, cruel world as, well, ordinary. People in this world will literally hunt down and kidnap children to perform dangerous “hero” work if they cannot simply buy the children as slaves from their willing parents and no one bats an eye. Similarly, a family who discovers that they have an Ord is expected to hand the kid over to the authorities for work or study or something. Friends and neighbors who have known the Ord their entire lives and used to like, even love, the child will suddenly treat him or her like a pariah–no matter that they have associated for years and never experienced any negative effects. Abby’s family is literally the only one readers meet who do not respond by throwing their child out of the house (not counting the child whose mother is also an Ord). It is a horrifying depiction of society and one that never begins to feel normal, no matter how nonchalantly the narrator describes it.
The school really only makes matters worse. The children essentially live in a prison because gathering together so many Ords in one place simply makes them an easier target for kidnappers, monsters, and people who just generally think that the opening of the school ruined the neighborhood. Their daily routine means staying within iron-barred gates and always remaining on the look-out for creatures determined to hunt them. Furthermore, their curriculum, while designed with normal subjects like history as a way to ease them into the new environment, mostly focuses on things like identifying monsters who want to drink their blood and learning self-defense to protect themselves from treasure hunters or others willing to sell them into slavery. Their lives will always require constant vigilance and no amount of fighting techniques will ever keep them wholly safe. Watching Abby start to think of learning how to bite and claw her way out of a kidnapper’s hold as a normal activity–one that she can blithely reference to her concerned parents–is absolutely horrifying.
The story does possess its lighter moments, such as Abby’s developing friendships, her interactions with her siblings, and her older sister’s not-so-secret almost-romance, but the threat of danger never truly goes away. It casts a sobering shadow over everything that happens, reminding readers that although Abby’s family loves her and supports her, they cannot actually protect her, and all their beautiful moments together can be ruined in an instant. There are no happy endings here and while that may be somewhat true of life, it still comes across as a shock.