Reason has spent most of her fifteen years in the Australian bush, moving around with her slightly unstable mother in an effort to avoid Reason’s grandmother. Reason has been told over and over that her grandmother is not very nice and means them harm. But then her mother, who has always been less than totally grounded, has a complete break with reality, and must be institutionalized. Much to Reason’s horror, she is sent to live with her grandmother.
Despite the fact that Reason has been told over and over – including with her very name – that logic is the only important factor in life, she soon starts to wonder if her grandmother is practicing magic. Further frightened by her grandmother, Reason escapes through a special door – and finds herself instantly transported to New York City. She learns that her family is part of a long line of witches. She herself possesses magic. But the magic comes at a price: using it will shorten her life, making her destined to die young. On the flip side, not using the magic is just as dangerous, leading to eventual insanity, the fate of Reason’s mother. Reason is left with few choices, caught between a rock and a hard place: Does she use her magic, and die young, or risk going crazy to avoid an early death?
This is the first in the Magic or Madness trilogy by Justine Larbalestier. Reason and her two friends – one from Sydney, the other in New York – have authentic voices. Australian slang terms are used by the two Aussie kids, while the American character uses her own slang. An appendix in the back lists all of the slang terms, both Australian and American, allowing readers from both countries to use the glossary. The magic system is (perhaps ironically) well-reasoned and logical. The characters are likable, or unlikeable, where appropriate, and all are three-dimensional, with distinct personalities and realistic strengths and weaknesses. This first book leaves the reader eager to read the concluding two volumes in the series.