8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary MagicTitle: Ordinary Magic

Author: Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 2012
Hardcover: 277 Pages

In Abby’s world, magic isn’t anything special: it’s a part of everyday life. So when Abby learns that she has zero magical abilities, she’s branded an “Ord”—ordinary, bad luck, and quite possibly a danger to society.

The outlook for kids like Abby isn’t bright. Many are cast out by their families, while others are sold to treasure hunters (ordinary kids are impervious to spells and enchantments). Luckily for Abby, her family enrolls her in a school that teaches ordinary kids how to get around in a magical world. But with treasure-hunting kidnappers and carnivorous goblins lurking around every corner, Abby’s biggest problem may not be learning how to be ordinary—it’s whether or not she’s going to survive the school year!

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Ordinary Magic series

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I confess that I hadn’t really heard about this book until Stephanie Burgis (author of the amazing Kat Stephenson books) pointed it out in her awesome Smugglivus guest post as one of her favorite MG books of the year. Given how much I love Stephanie’s writing (plus how much I loved the other book she mentions in the post, Above World), I immediately purchased Ordinary Magic and resolved to review it ASAP.


Abby Hale leads a happy and normal life for a twelve year old – she goes to school every day and she’s lucky enough to have a large, loving family and plenty of friends. And, just like anyone else her age, Abby cannot wait to be Judged, because Judgement means she will finally be an Adult and that she’ll FINALLY be able to use magic (just like everyone else in the world). On the day of her Judgement, Abby is an excited mess of nerves and she wonders what rating she’ll receive – most kids get a Judgement of 5 or so (although Abby’s eldest sister, Alexa, got a nearly unheard-of 9 rating!). But Abby doesn’t even pass her first test, and she is Judged as having absolutely zero magical potential.

In other words, Abby is an Ord – that is, she’s “Ordinary” therefore impervious to magic and anathema to society.

You see, in Abby’s world, everything relies on magic, from the rooms in her family’s house to the shortcake that Abby’s mother conjures in her bakery. Ords are a danger because they can see through any spells and cannot be affected by magic, and reviled – they are treated as though their Ord-ness is a contagious disease (it’s not), and their basic human rights are stripped away. For instance Ords, especially Ord children, are often sold as slaves to traveling Adventurers (who find it useful to have someone impervious to magic on hand to walk through magical booby traps in the pursuit of treasure).

Abby soon learns all of this, as she’s kicked out of school, her supposed friends keep their distance, and a pair of brutal Adventurers show up at her family’s doorstep looking to purchase Abby for their next adventure. At least Abby has her family who stand by her and love her just as much as if she had been proclaimed an immensely powerful young mage. And just when all seems lost, Abby learns that her life is not without hope and opportunity – her eldest sister, Alexa, works a top secret job in Education for the kingdom, and it turns out she (and newly coronated King Stephen) has been a champion for Ords for years, protecting a school for Ordinary children in the heart of the kingdom’s capitol city. Soon enough, Abby is whisked away to Margaret Green School in Rothmere, where she learns that she is one of many Ords, where she makes new friends, and learns how to protect herself and use her Ordinariness to her advantage. Of course, danger abounds (what with redcaps and desperate Adventurers about), but with the help of her family and her friends, Abby may just be able to make it through her first year of school alive.

Well, thank you Stephanie Burgis! Ordinary Magic is EVERY bit as wonderful as promised – there’s nothing ordinary about it. The core premise of the book is simple, but brilliant in its simplicity; Abby’s world is like a reverse Harry Potter, in which the entire universe is magical, except for a very small subset of folks that are despised for their non-magical-ness. Instead of going to a school for the gifted, Abby goes to a school where she can be safe and where she can learn how to live life in a world built for others (really, upon reflection, “Ords” and “Oridnary” seems a misnomer because Abby and her fellow Ords are not average or typical in the slightest – in fact they are very OUT of the ordinary). The revulsion that other characters feel for Abby and her new friends is a searing, believable examination of xenophobia, of racism, of the despicable fear of those who are different. I love the careful, considered examination of these issues in the book, in a way that never feels didactic or exploitative, and is seamlessly integral to the story.

I also love the consideration of the world itself, too. While I wonder where the fear and hatred for Ords came from (fodder for future books, right?), I love the distinction between ords being impervious to magic, but NOT impervious to normal things that would kill anyone. As one of Abby’s teachers points out, ords are impervious to magical fire, but they will burn just like anyone else if a spell is cast that creates a non-magical, regular fire. We also get to see just how ingrained magic is in this world, as when Abby volunteers for kitchen duty, she – for the very first time in her life! – has to wash a dish (dirty dishes in the Hale household are magicked away and back into existence, clean as ever).

But you know what I loved most of all about this book? The characters, and the relationships between the characters. I adored the family dynamic between Abby, her sisters Olivia and Alexa, and her protective brothers Gil and Jeremy, and especially her parents. Instead of absentee parents, or cruel siblings, the Hale family is a tight-knit bunch that unconditionally loves its youngest member, Abby. I even love the realistic tension that emerges at Abby’s school – because unlike other Ords, Abby is incredibly lucky to have a supportive family (so many other family’s turn their children out or sell them when they are Judged to be Ords), to the resentment of other characters.

And then there’s our heroine Abby, herself. Like Stephanie Burgis’ Kat Stephenson books, I love that the novel follows Abby and not her older siblings – let’s face it, the story of Alexa, who is a level 9 mage (that’s 9 out of a possible – or rather, impossible – 10!) and selflessly devoted to improving the law and living conditions for Ords even before her sister was claimed one is an easy shoe-in for heroine of a YA or older fantasy series. That said, how predictable would that have been? I LOVE the perspective we get from Abby who is NOT powerful or particularly ingenius, but who has guts and the love of her family and friends to guide her. She’s brave and resourceful, but the thing that is so awesome about Abby is her belief and trust in those she cares for. And that’s just Abby! The other characters in this book are brilliantly detailed and fleshed out, from the curmudgeonly Peter (there’s a sweet beginning of a romance here, handled beautifully) to the passionate ord self-defense teacher Becky.

What else can I say about Ordinary Magic? This is a fantastic book in a richly imagined and fascinating world. I loved Ordinary Magic very, very much, and I sincerely hope there will be more adventures of Abby and her fellow Ords in the very near future.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

The day of my Judging dawned bright and clear and hot. It was searing; the air pressed against my chest with each breath. It was Olivia’s turn to look after me (to make sure my dresser cast up the right clothes, that food appeared on the table, and that the hundreds of everyday things that needed doing when you were underage got done) and with all the craziness going on, no one noticed her smuggling me up to the upstairs bathroom. Then she attacked me.


“Hold still.”

“It hurts.”

“It hurts because you’re not holding still. You know, we’d be done by now if I could do this normally.” The tiules scritched together as Olivia called in magic, and the bathroom took on a funnys ort of double vision, a blurry knife’s edge between reality and what Olivia wanted it to be. I could see it, but I couldn’t feel it – you can’t when you’re a kid, not until you’re ready, not until after you have been Judged.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

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  • Franki
    January 8, 2013 at 1:53 am

    I think it’s very interesting considering the social commentary aspect of the book (although I haven’t read it. I think I will, though, it looks really good) that the Coming of Age Ceremony is called a Judgment. That has interesting connotations, especially when considered along with the implications of Abby’s own Judgment. Her Judgment has the potential to ostracize her, and would have without her family’s support. Also, I wonder how the other children managed to find their way into the orphanage, although I suppose I just have to read the book to find out. Great review, as always. Happy Tuesday!

  • Eliza
    January 8, 2013 at 3:20 am

    I’ve read such differing opinions about this book from some reviewers loving it to others finding it middle of the road or unbelievable. Their main objections is that the Ords just seem too incompetent in dealing with daily tasks. However, your explanation of how the world works makes it believable. Anyway, it sounds like a fun book and one I’ll enjoy, so I’ll give it a shot.

  • Stephanie Burgis
    January 8, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Oh yay! I am so glad you loved it too. I am waiting SO impatiently for a Book 2 to be announced!

  • Yessi
    January 8, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I agree. Your explanation of how the world works makes sense as to why they’re “incompetent” with daily ordinary non-magical tasks. It brings to mind Harry Potter’s Mr. Weasley. He was always amazed when Harry would explain how everyday objects worked in the Muggle world.

  • Shweta
    January 9, 2013 at 9:12 am

    When I read about this book on the smugglivus post I immediately went on good reads to check on it and added it to my wishlist. The cover’s so lovely , a reminder of eva Ibbotson’s Star of Kazan cover, though the premise is entirely different. Another series to look forward to.

  • Kendra
    January 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I too picked this up after Stephanie’s post and I absolutely love it! Ordinary Magic and Kat Incorrigible make me so sad I don’t have sisters (and perhaps a couple more brothers).

    Oh yeah, Gill and Becky, I ship it.

  • Kendra
    January 9, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I too picked this up after Stephanie’s post and I absolutely love it! Ordinary Magic and Kat Incorrigible make me so sad I don’t have sisters (and perhaps a couple more brothers).
    Oh yeah, Gill and Becky, I ship it.

  • Heidi
    January 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    This is one of those rare cases where I had a vastly different reaction to a book than you, Thea. Ordinary Magic just rubbed me the wrong way–I think I had such a hard time swallowing the extreme hatred of Ords without a better explanation (you’re right, hopefully she’ll go into this in future books!). I just couldn’t believe that these parents would do these sorts of things to their children, and that Abby’s family was such an unheard of anomaly. I DID love her familial relationships though, particularly her brother. I think maybe I got overly excited about the concept and was disappointed in how it played out–I’m glad you enjoyed though!

  • Michelle
    January 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Based on this review I was able to get this from the library. Really enjoyed it. Agree about Gill and Becky. Can’t wait for book 2.

  • The Hipster Owl's Bookshelf
    January 13, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Perfect! I like the sound of this one! Will def add this to my list of buys at my Barnes & Noble! Lucky me for working at a bookstore so I can get %30 off discount, eh? hehe :)))

  • Michelle
    January 13, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I really enjoyed this book as well ~ my favorite MG read of 2012, in fact! I am so happy to see that it’s popping up more frequently in the blogoshpere and getting the attention that it deserves. (And I can’t wait for the next!)

  • Eliza
    January 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I finished this book yesterday and have to agree that it’s a lot of fun. Maybe some of the rules of the world need to be fleshed out, but the protagonist is 11. She doesn’t question the world’s rules. It just is. Also, this is only the first book, so there is more time to explore why Ords are so hated/feared in this country. There are hints that it’s not the same in other countries (e.g., Majid) and I look forward to finding out why.

    I loved that Abby read and acted like an 11 year old. So many times, the kids in books act well beyond their years. It was believable that all Abby and her friends are regular 11 year old kids who have had a big shock and life changes.

    I want to find out more about Abby’s classmates that didn’t get much “screentime.” Cesar, who I found fascinating even though he barely made an appearance but had a big impact when he did. I have a feeling his back story is pretty heartbreaking. Also, I’d like to get to know the Mijad sisters Naija and Eila. They were the least realized characters.

    Clearly, I want to learn more about the characters and the world. Looking forward to book 2.

  • Scott
    January 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I’ve looked at reading this one but haven’t because it seemed too much like “A Spell for Chameleon” or “The Magic of Recluse” but after reading your review I might give it another look.

  • Lucia
    January 29, 2013 at 4:19 am

    Like Franki I also thought that there was a social commentary in “Ordinary Magic” that was tucked into a very good adventure. In the “Ords”, I saw the kids who are left out, or special needs, or the last-picked-for-the-team. Rubino Bradway doesnt hit you over the head with it but it is there – and if there is a little girl in your life who is at that awkward age and feeling left out of things, definitely the book for her.
    Besides that I just loved Abbys family – such a nice change from that miserable home life trope that seems to have dominated MG and YA for so long. I would love to have a big sis like Alexa!

  • January and February 2013 Wrap-Up
    March 4, 2013 at 2:12 am

    […] love with read­ing all over again. Ordi­nary Magic first came to my atten­tion fol­low­ing a glow­ing review over at The Book Smug­glers. Abby is the kind of hero­ine I love to read about, brave, […]

  • Jasmine
    January 3, 2014 at 1:45 am

    I just want to know, everybody reading this, please tell me who your favorite characters in Ordinary Magic are……PLEASE?

    ~Jasmine :0)

  • Jasmine
    January 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Oh,please reply and Happy New Year!

    ~Jasmine :0)

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