Title: Thirteenth Child
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Series: Frontier Magic, Book 1
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Hardcover: 344 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
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.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
I decided to grab this from the library, because I’m a fan of Patricia C. Wrede, and I love magic books that take the folklore about seventh children and spin it into a real, magical thing. However, even expecting something interesting, Thirteenth Child pleasantly surprised me with how enjoyable of a story it is. The main character, Eff, is a thirteenth child; a status that holds stigma where she’s from, so her family moves away with her to a new city, where she can grow up without the stigma. That new city, however, is on the frontier, dangerously close to the magic barrier that keeps all the magic wildlife away from human settlements. This story focuses on Eff’s coming of age in the backdrop of an alternate-history magical realm where humans are settling the frontier, but doing so while being preyed upon magical creatures and forces.
As with any book she writes, Wrede creates a compelling world where magic is real. Much of the magic is loosely based upon folklore of different cultures, which I found to be fascinating. Eff’s twin, Lan, seems to be a natural at it, where Eff is so afraid of hurting people, she stifles her own magical growth. I especially loved the fact that Eff faces new variations of the same challenge as she gets older. She is constantly fighting the fear of hurting people and being unlucky to others, and that takes on different iterations as she grows, which is such a realistic way to deal with internal conflict; if we look at our own lives, I feel we would also find a common core element of what we’re actually fighting against, even though it takes different faces.
I also really appreciated that what helps Eff a lot in her early years is the fact that she has a strict, no-nonsense teacher who believes in her abilities and scoffs at the idea of her being unlucky simply for being a thirteenth child. I’m a sucker for any story that shows just how much teachers can shape our lives by giving us a little bit of encouragement when we most need it, and I’m so happy this was included in this story. Of course, along with that is Eff’s friendships and her relationships with her family, which are also super important. For all this story deals with magic, it’s depictions of people and what growing up is like is right on the money in terms of realism.
Overall, I thought this was a great book and I think that middle grade and young adult readers will especially love it. It’s mostly about coming of age, but also has the fun and thrill of magic and fantastical creatures and such. There were parts that were a bit slow, but overall, I just really enjoyed reading about Eff and getting to know her. I’m super excited to pick up the sequel.