Review: Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson

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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 1st 2014 by Starscape
Source: Library

I don’t usually review all the books I read simply because I read too many books to review them all. However, after I finished this novel, I felt that to not review this would be a shame as this book is very very important.

Copper Magic is about 12-year-old Violet Blake who was left behind with her father when her mother took her younger brother, Fry, and went away, ostensibly, to visit her sister but months have passed and she’s still not back. Violet’s mother is half-Native Indian and the months before she left, she was sad and used to cry for reasons Violet is not sure of. Violet has a strained relationship with her laconic father who she feels is too wrapped up in his own world to care for her. Then she finds a copper hand near a stream in a forest beside her house. This copper hand, Violet feels, is her gateway to magic. She meets a preacher’s daughter who befriends her and for the first time Violet has someone to whisper secrets to and make plans with.

But then a skeleton is found in the very place Violet excavated the copper hand from. Things happen and the copper hand is taken from Violet. Violet gets embroiled in plans to retrieve it and what follows is a story that involves less magic than you’d think but is no less magical for the lack.

Copper Magic is important for many reasons. Among them, the most important, are the issues this novel tackles. The Indian heritage that Violet can claim but as yet has not been taught to is mentioned but more importantly, the genocide of the Native Indians/First Nations people is a key point in this story. Though not a primary plot point, the crimes committed against Native Indians is discussed with some depth and in a manner sensitive enough that young children will be able to handle. Reading this novel in a classroom will give teachers a good springboard from which to talk about settler history. Gibson also deals with racial, and to a lesser extent, sexual discrimination in this novel, again, in a manner that underscores the importance of these issues while being careful not to overwhelm the younger readers.

Violet reads as a twelve year old girl. Her reactions, interactions and thought processes mark her as twelve years old and I appreciated this because it would have been so much easier to paint her as older than her years. The fantastical portion of the novel is lacking–magic is more of an abstract construct that is discussed as being felt but does not actually, explicitly, manifest. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that magic is a vehicle Gibson uses to discusses issues relevant to our times and society.

I liked that there were no stock characters in this novel; each individual had something to contribute to the narrative. I really liked the portrayal of the First Nations/Native Indian elder; her bearing is regal, dignified and yet full of anger and pain–but in a unstated way. She recounts the tragic history of her people and the strength and pain in her words transcend the fictional boundaries of this novel.

While the novel is not perfect–the pace is a bit slow at times–I feel that it is a necessity in all reading lists precisely for the reasons listed above.