Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Publication: Scholastic Press (April 15, 2009)
Description: Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he's supposed to possess amazing talent -- and she's supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild.
With wit and wonder, Patricia Wrede creates an alternate history of westward expansion that will delight fans of both J. K. Rowling and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
My Thoughts: This is a first person coming of age story told by Eff who happens to be a twin and a thirteenth child in an alternate Earth setting in the pioneer days. Settlers have more to worry about than our early settlers had though. This world has magic and dangerous magical creatures like steam dragons, spectral bears, mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses among other dangers.
The world also has three kinds of magic - the Avrupan, the Hijero-Cathayan, and the Aphrikan. Many, even most. of the people in Columbia are students of the Avrupan school which teaches that seventh sons are lucky and seventh sons of seventh sons are even luckier. And there is nothing worse to be than a thirteenth child. Her brother Lan is a double seven who is petted and praised for his potential; Eff is the unlucky thirteenth. While her parents are supportive of her, many of her aunts, uncles and cousins torment and belittle her. She develops a major inferiority complex and a fear that she really will turn out to be as horrible as her relatives say.
When she is five, her parents decide to travel west to the edge of settlement. Her father is a professor of magic who gets a job at one of the new land grant colleges on the frontier. This trip gives Eff a chance to start over but she still doesn't tell anyone that she is a thirteenth child. There in Mill City Eff also has the chance to learn from a new teacher who is an expert in the Aphrikan school of magic. The new teacher helps Eff gain confidence but Eff is still worried that her magic could be dangerous.
Now, in this world there is a magical barrier that was erected by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to keep the people to the east safe from all the dangerous magical and non-magical creatures in the west. But settlers are pushing the limit and gradually expanding beyond this great Barrier Spell. Each settlement has their own magician to provide the magical protections necessary to live beyond the Great Barrier. But the land beyond the Barrier is little explored and largely unknown. Eff wants to learn more about the land and become a naturalist. When the settlements are attacked by a new insect that no one knew anything about, Eff travels with her father, twin, and friend to try to find a way to protect the settlements. And she becomes a heroine!
I thought the story was a fascinating and different take on fantasy. Combining magic with pioneering made it even more interesting. Having Eff tell her own story made it easy to understand and sympathize with her. The only problem I had with the story was the very lackluster cover that the book has. If I can convince students to pick it up, I know that they will enjoy getting to know Eff and finding out about her magical world. But the cover doesn't make it easy.
Don't judge this book by its cover! Pick it up and explore a fascinating new world with a wonderful main character.
"I can see plain enough that an angel straight from heaven itself would grow up crooked if she was watched and chivvied and told every morning and every night that she was sure to turn evil," Mama said. "And I can see equally plain that fussing and fawning over a child that hasn't even learned his numbers yet, as if he were a prince of power and wisdom. will only grow him into a swell-headed, stuck-up scarecrow of a man, who like as not will never know good advice when he hears it, nor thing to ask for it when he needs it."I bought a copy of this book for my Kindle so that I could refresh my memory before I read Wrede's newest - Across the Great Barrier. I bought and read the print book in 2009 which was 400 or so books ago.