April 16, 2018

Harry Houdini has nothing on her | The Art of Escaping Review

The Art of Escaping
The Art of EscapingBy Erin Callahan
Publication on June 18, 2018
320 Pages
Young Adult, Contemporary

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I swear on my bookshelf that this has not affected my opinion of the book.

Seventeen-year-old Mattie is hiding her obsession with Harry Houdini and Dorothy Dietrich from everyone, including her best friend Stella. When Stella takes off to boarding school for the summer, all of Mattie’s anxieties bubble to the surface, leaving her feeling adrift. To distract herself, she seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist whose life and career were snuffed out by a tragic plane crash.
With Miyu’s help, Mattie secretly transforms herself into a burgeoning escapologist and performance artist. Away from the curious eyes of her peers, she thrives in her new world of lock picking, straitjackets, and aquarium escapes. But when Will, a popular varsity athlete from her high school, discovers her act at an underground venue, she fears that her double life is about to be exposed. But instead of outing her, Will tells Mattie something he’s never told anyone before and the two of them find out that not all secrets can remain secret forever.
Told through the perspectives of the witty main characters, this funny and fresh debut explores the power of stage personas and secret spaces, and speaks to the uncanny ways in which friendships transform us.


Fantasy books aren't the only stories with magic. In The Art of Escaping, Mattie shows that determination, grit, and the magic of picking a lock are just as interesting as wizards, dragons, and far-away lands.  

I know that everyone is familiar with Houdini and his infamous stunts, but Mattie and her mentor Miyu shatter the theatrics of Houdini in order to show the true danger of stage "magic". Mattie's obsession with escapology brought the darker side of magic to real life. It is easy to watch an escape artist or magician from the safety of the audience, but Callahan brought the readers up close and personal, literally under the water with Mattie. This view of escapology contrasts to the innocence of card tricks and pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Instead of the flashy magic associated with sleight of hand, I was intrigued by the stakes of escapology and those willing to risk their lives for its sake.

The focus on Mattie as a escape artist also flips stereotypes of magic performance since she is the star of the show and not merely the eye-candy assistant. Much to my delight, her magic didn't depend on romance. Mattie is a strong, independent woman who doesn't need a man to be extraordinary. The raw diary entries incorporated throughout the story also worked to defy the facade of magic. She was a courageous escapologist, but she was also a person with magic of her own. 

Will's development as a character was also strong as he dealt with coming out in the hostile environment of high school. He was a round character who was not only gay, but also an amazing friend, a magical assistant, a witty voice of reason, and a protagonist in his own right. Will was not a side character pushed off to the side, but a main character with just as much page-time and depth as Mattie. 

Even though I loved the twist on magic and the intricacies of escapology, the execution of the ideas could have been better. 

The book is told in dual perspectives through the voices of Mattie and Will, which I do not think was necessary. Both characters had unique voices and I loved the differentiation in style, but they narrated many of the same events. While I mostly enjoyed both perspectives, there were times when I felt that I was getting the same story over again. It also didn't help that the plot was a little bit predictable, which emphasized the repetition even more. Some fragments of the timeline were told more than once, but there were also weeks and weeks of the time line that were glossed over (like the entirety of their high school experience). 

On the whole, I enjoyed the vibrant voice and unique metaphors that Callahan used to create the atmosphere of high school. There weren't any of the same old cliches, but the style tended to exaggerate for the sake of uniqueness. Specifically, Will's voice tried too hard at points to be "cool" and "hipster" with the retro references. Instead of incorporating a few vintage phrases, at times he spoke in the full vernacular of the 1920's, which teenagers are not normally apt to do. 

Recommended for: fans of Harry Houdini (or the cinematic masterpiece Now You See Me), fantasy fans looking to explore contemporary, contemporary fans looking for a little bit of magic, those looking for LGBT+ representation in a high school setting 

In Conclusion...

Do you plan on checking out The Art of Escaping in June? Have you ever heard of escapology? How do you feel about dual perspectives in novels? Are there any other coming out stories in high school that you would recommend?

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