Magic and Misery by Peter Marino 2009
IQ "I assumed I was in love with Pan from the start, but looking back, I think it was more like fago. Fago is an emotion Mrs. Burrell, our English teacher, told us about. [...] 'Fago is from a tribe in the Pacific Islands,' she had said. 'It's hard to explain, but it means something like feeling both affection and worry for someone at the same time.'" pg. 1
First things first, this cover is awful. It reminds me of an old '80s or '90s book cover and I would never have picked up this book if I hadn't read Doret's review. I'm ashamed to admit that I judged a book by its cover and didn't even bother to read the summary. Also, the title is a bit misleading. I was thinking it was about a girl witch or something like that. I should not assume things (I'm sure most of you are thinking duh, but I forget sometimes) because if I would have missed out on a lovely book. So if you take nothing else away from my review, remember this; Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover! There may well be an exceptional story between that awful cover.
Magic and Misery tells the story of TJ (short for Antonia JoAnne), a junior in high school who has a low self-esteem. She calls herself short and fat and can't see what makes her special. Her family is poor, her mother had to give up her dream of going to college after she had T.J.'s baby brother, Paolo (T.J. also has an older brother, Teo) who screams at the slightest thing and TJ often has to babysit him. She also has a job at a pharmacy, all of which leaves her with little time for fun and she's happy at first. She has one good friend, Amanda, but then she meets Pan. Pan is gorgeous and funny and nice and seems interested in TJ, then she learns he's gay. She's crushed because she's in love with Pan and thought he was actually interested in her. But they still remain really good friends and eventually become best friends. However, TJ gets asked out by a guy named Caspar and then Pan starts to feel left out and like a third wheel which creates some problems and he's struggling with being a gay teen in a small, conservative town.
I love Pan. He's my favorite character of the book. The friendship between Pan and TJ is authentic, they are great friends and incredibly sarcastic which makes Magic and Misery a delight to read. Pan truly loves TJ, but in a non romantic way, in a best friends way. TJ has to learn to accept that, but Pan also needs to learn to accept that TJ will have other men in her life (although she thinks differently). There's a funny, but touching scene where right after Pan comes out (during one of his classes which is incredibly brave!), TJ is bemoaning the fact that he's the only guy she thought she might have had the smallest of chances with. Pan offers to go through reparative therapy and make himself straight. Obviously that won't help, but it's a sweet gesture and shows the love and devotion Pan has for TJ. He will do anything to see her happy and is constantly building up her self-esteem, calling her his "Italian princess", etc. Mr. Marino did a fantastic job of not having Pan fall into the stereotypical "gay best friend" role. Pan doesn't obsess over clothes, or 'act girly', or do anything else you have preconceived notions about how gay guys act. Pan is sarcastic,, sophisticated (his family is wealthy and they also have a wealth of opinions, he's traveled to various places whereas TJ has never been out of her hometown, Mungers Mills) and he could care less about shopping and fashion. Also, his real name is James, but after he came out, some classmates began calling him "pansy." TJ and Pan then decide to call James, Pan for pansy. Awesome way to turn a hurtful nickname around and he seemed a little Peter Pan like to me, because he could be a bit immature at times (very much 'I don't want to grow up').
I also liked TJ, she was a very realistic teen. She was majorly insecure, like all teens and I could relate to her many insecurities. TJ grows increasingly frustrated with her school and the prejudices of her classmates. Her frustration was palpable, and I sympathized with her feelings of hopelessness over what to do about the name calling of Pan. I was happy for her when she went out with Caspar and I liked how her having a boyfriend did boost her self esteem, but her self esteem was boosted even more by Pan and at times her family. The other secondary characters are great. TJ's family (like all families) is eccentric and warm and humorous. Her baby brother, Paola is a handful. There's something wrong with his hearing which results in him yelling all the time and he's also considered to be homely. The assistant manager at the pharmacy TJ works at, Tammie is a complete riot. She's a nervous wreck waiting to happen! Pan's family is funny and different as well. His parents love him and support him and are completely accepting of Pan's sexual orientation.
My only problems with this novel were that I felt Caspar and TJ were a bit of an old couple. Caspar's very quiet and speaks s-l-o-w-ly and I didn't feel much chemistry between him and TJ but I didn't mind so much, since the novel was more about the friendship between TJ and Pan. However, towards the end it didn't seem like TJ and Caspar did much together, just had sex (which is realistic) and talked occasionally about deep things (never light hearted stuff). They are a cute couple, but an odd match that I never completely understood Also, the friendship between TJ and Amanda ended rather suddenly. I'm not even sure when it ended and it was never quite clear why. Finally, I wanted to know what exactly was wrong with Paulo (the author did a great job of describing him, although it was hard to visualize a homely baby, I could hear the screams rising off the pages!)
Magic and Misery is an excellent book that offers a new and witty look at GLBT issues, but it's also about friendship and that's the best part. The friendship between TJ and Pan is special and really showcases the old saying that quality not quantity is the most important thing when it comes to having friends. This novel truly emphasizes that "no one is totally, one hundred percent anything. " (Pan, pg. 38), no one is totally gay, or ugly, or quiet, or mean, etc. We are all three dimensional. I also loved learning about fago. It's a new emotion to me and I know I have felt for people and still do. I highly recommend people read this book. High school and up