Abrakapow by Isaiah Campbell (review)
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Reviewed by
Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor
Campbell, Isaiah Abrakapow; illus. by Dave Perillo. Simon, 2016 [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-2634-3 $16.99
E-book ISBN 978-1-4814-2636-7 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-7

Orders are orders, and even the best of Maxine’s magic tricks can’t disappear the commands from the U.S. government that have her family moving to Texas so her father, Major Larousse, can oversee a Nazi POW camp. Even at eleven, Maxine’s a pretty darn good illusionist, and her skills with sleight of hand garner attention from two surprising places. A misfit group called the Gremlins wants Max to prank the school’s golden girl, but even more intriguing—and somewhat frightening—is the notice by Felix, a German inmate who shares Max’s affinity for magic tricks. When her dad asks her to perform a magic show for the prisoners, she and the Gremlins pull out all the stops, but it’s Felix’s vanishing act—and that of eleven other prisoners—that steals the spotlight. Escaped Nazis aren’t usually fodder for comedy, but Campbell manages a deft balancing act, with a third-person narration that moves from droll wit to a more serious tone. Spunky Maxine and her friends are kids of their time, with Maxine referring to her Japanese-American friend as an “Oriental cowboy” and another girl referencing “devil-worshipping Jews.” Contemporary youngsters will nonetheless sympathize with her school dilemma, and she’s a relatable character. Maxine’s father and Felix are well drawn supporting roles, each recognizing a fellow soldier in the other. The rosy ending requires more than smoke and mirrors to be realistic, but it’s nonetheless satisfying. For aspiring Houdinis, comic-strip-formatted instructions for various magic tricks are interspersed throughout the chapters.

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