I’ve become known as the book person at my work, since I seem to be the only person who reads on lunch break instead of going out to run errands or pick up food. My coworker, who is also a big reader, said she had a book I absolutely must read and I never turn down a book recommendation! So big thanks to Emily for lending me The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, for the last few weeks.

The Magicians

 The Magicians follows the depressing life of Quentin Coldwater, a teenager in New York who still believes in the magical world of Fillory from a book he read as a child. Unfortunately for Quentin that belief doesn’t makes his life at a school for gifted teens, his flaky and absent parents, and his unrequited love for his best friend, any easier to bear. While he’s wishing for a magical ram to summon him to Fillory, everyone else in Quentin’s life is waiting for him to pick an Ivy League college and a career path. Until the fateful day his college interviewer is found dead, and he’s transported to another place by a mysterious EMT, Quentin believed his life would continue along this path picked by other people while he wished for something more exciting.

The beginning of the book is one of the few times things “magically happen” in the book, which makes it unique for the magical fantasy genre. The place he’s transported to is a school for learning magic, and much to Quentin’s dismay magic is just memorization of dead languages and strange hand movements. While at school Quentin starts to realize that getting everything you dreamed about (magic, a new start to reinvent yourself, a girlfriend) may not actually make your life perfect, and even once he’s given a chance to enter the world of Fillory he is still the same depressed person he always was–just with more magic this time.

I’ve written before about my dislike for forced happy endings and uber-upbeat characters. Quentin is deeply depressed for most of the book and when he makes stupid decisions he pays for them, and he is one of the most lovable characters I’ve read in a long time! When it comes to portrayals of the challenging transition from teenager to adult (the book follows Quentin for six years, starting when he is 17), Lev Grossman is amazingly realistic. Life isn’t all sunny and awesome when you’re encouraged/forced to pick a life path at 17 and later realized you picked wrong, and things can get complicated instead of happy when you finally get the things you’ve dreamed about for years. I know this makes the book sound depressing, and it certainly isn’t the most uplifting book ever, but this honest look at the struggle to become an adult (with a little magic thrown in for good measure) was incredibly refreshing.

There is a sequel to The Magicians, but I don’t know if my coworker has the book and it’s not one I’ll seek out on my own (I enjoyed the slightly sour note the book ended on). On its own, however, I found the book to be thought provoking and entertaining while making me incredibly grateful I’ve mostly outgrown my angst-y adolescent period!