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by Margaret Mahy

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003
207 pages

Age 13 and older

Roland is 17, with the kind of surface existence that most teens would envy: he's popular, gets good grades, and has an attractive girlfriend. But his life takes a precipitous turn when he discovers that a recurring nightmare he's had since childhood is not a dream, but a memory. As a small boy, Roland climbed into a magician's coffin-like magic box and found himself suspended among the stars. As he emerged from the box, an inner voice warned him to keep his experience a secret. That voice has been with him ever since--more constant than his own father, who abandonded Roland's family not long after. Now the magician, Quando, has reappeared in town, still asking the same sly questions that he did back when Roland emerged from the box as a child. Meanwhile, a teacher has blackmailed Roland into befriending Jess, a reclusive girl in his class. Although the teacher claims his intentions are based in concern for Jess, Roland knows there is something more going on. He discovers that Jess is much more than she seems on the surface, and he finds himself reluctantly attracted to her intelligence and self-possession, and intrigued by her house full of books on alchemy--a house that seems strangely suspended in time. When he discovers the teacher has a tie to Quando, Roland unites with Jess against the sinister forces that threaten them even though he doesn't fully understand what they are. He finds the answers in the classic battle between good and evil that follows, a battle that also reveals truths to Roland about himself and the father who left him so long ago. Alchemy--the process of transforming one thing into another--is explored at many levels throughout this finely written literary novel of suspense. Ultimately, Roland and Jess unleash their own unique power, fueled by strong emotions of love and hate. New Zealand author Margaret Mahy delivers another multi-layered work for teens, which both demands from and delivers to its readers. (MVL; June 16) 2003 Cooperative Children's Book Center

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