Monday, October 30, 2006


Magnifico, by Victoria Miles

Children (middle grade)/Canadian/Historical

Taking place in late depression era Vancouver, Magnifico, tells the story of Mariangela and her Italian immigrant family. Mariangela has a cousin who is 16 and tall and beautiful, and who plays the piano. Mariangela longs for a piano too, but she gets something much less beautiful instead. She gets her grandfather's accordion. She is horrified. Not only does she have to play this awful thing instead of a piano, but she has to cart it to her accordion teacher's home on a bright red wagon. She is thoroughly embarrassed.

However, being a children's story, there is a lesson in all this. And being Canadian historical fiction we also get lot's of great details about Mariangela's life and that of her friends. We learn of the immigrant experience, we hear rumblings of the dawning Holocaust (one of Mariangela's friends is a Jew with family in Germany), the visit of the King and Queen to Canada in 1939, western Canadian mines, and much more. Through a series of life lessons, Mariangela comes to view that which had been a burden as a blessing, and the story ends with a feeling of magnificence.

What bothers me about the story is that I felt it to be a bit of a survey of the history of the time. It felt like we were getting information that was unnecessary to the story simply because it was interesting or important to the time. It felt a little unfocused in that sense, and I kept just wanting to get on with the actual narrative, which was intriguing and exciting.

I think what saves this story from didacticism is the characters. They are truly well invented and drawn. I particularly liked the descriptions of Mariangela's teacher, Gioseff, and of her interactions with her younger sisters. They rang very true. I think young readers will recognize much of themselves in Mariangela's concerns and embarrassment. The ending is also satisfying and uplifting.

On a side note - when I first looked at the cover I thought it was a sports novel - the bright colours and also the writing that looks like baseball writing. It is NOT a sports novel.

Basically, this is a nice little story, and well worth having in a collection. But, it didn't set my world on fire.

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