My experience with Middle Grade is pretty limited at this time, but I felt that some words and some situations would be better suited to an older audience. However, overall, the story is relatively short and smart with very few mistakes. The characters are likeable (to a point) and observant. I did like the dream world that was built by LeAnn Mathis. However, I was a little bit confused by the reality, as it was set in the ’60s and I’m not sure if that was the best time to set a magical novel for children (but what do I know?).
There were two main characters in the book, and we got a chapter from each of their viewpoints. Maddie is our strong female hero, and Franklin is the male hero. We also have an evil dude (Julius), who is some sort of ghostly being.
So, firstly to Maddie. She is the strong and smart girl who comes from a wealthy family. She escapes every night into the dreamland and beyond. There she is a magician, whereas, in reality, she is just your ordinary smart child. She caves to societal constructs and ignores the other hero we have in the story at the start. Maddie does build up her courage as the story goes and we learn that love, not hate is the best outcome.
Next, we have Franklin, who is a smart, but kind of shy boy. He comes from a family where his mother has to work a lot to get him where he is (and he knows that). He sees the world different from Maddie, in that the Dreamland is more an escape from persecution. The more he enjoys this, the more he feels his world is wrong.
The central focus in the Magician’s Dream is racism. It’s set in a time where Franklin, being black is not as well accepted as it is now (which is why I believe Mathis chose the ’60s). The class divide is evident when we read that Maddie should not be seen talking to (or being friends with) Franklin. Her brother is there to tattletale on her when she steps out of line (as a spy for his parents). Franklin is also unsure whether he should be talking to them, as he knows that someone will likely punish him.
Another smaller theme is that even the smallest of things can have the biggest/gravest consequences. We see this with (spoiler ahead) the needle that Maddie received. This needle joins the Dreamworld with reality, and as such, can wield great power (such as fireballs flying around the hallway). I quite like such gentle themes, as they let me think on what small things in my life may have led to great consequences, such as receiving a Harry Potter book as a child, and here I am reading and reviewing books all these years later.
A third theme is: there is always another way (spoiler ahead). We read this when Franklin has to make a choice between what Maddie says to do, and what Julius says to do. Franklin chooses Julius, but with a twist that Maddie and Julius never expected. This sort-of third option is always available to you if you just stop and think about the situation.
So, overall, I liked the book (but maybe I have a bias to magical books). I liked the idea of a Dreamworld connected with others. I didn’t like the year it was set (because it led to more adult themes), but it didn’t subtract from the story too much. I would recommend it, but you may need to explain certain themes to a child if they ask.
I received a copy of the book from the author for an honest review. I always try my best to balance the reviews and not favour any one person (though I may be a bit subjective when it comes to the genre).