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No Castles Here

Review

No Castles Here

"What I need, Augie thought, is a fairy godmother. She'd wave her magic wand, and poof, all my problems would disappear." Augie Boretski has been thinking about fairy godmothers a lot lately, ever since he accidentally stole a mysterious, possibly magical, book of fairy stories from a small Philadelphia bookshop. Even though Augie has never been a big reader, he finds himself strangely drawn to the stories of magic and transformations he discovers there.

Augie also has been thinking a lot about problems, and he has plenty to think about. At the top of the list? Dwaine and his gang of bullies, who steal Augie's school lunch money, tease him in class and generally seize every opportunity to make his life miserable. Augie's hardworking, well-meaning single mom has tried to make Augie's life better by lining up a companion for him through the Big Brothers program. At first, 11-year-old Augie thinks he's too old for a Big Brother, even one like Walter, who has a great outlook on life and a really cool truck. But what will Dwaine and the other bullies say, or do, when they discover that a kid in their class has a Big Brother and that his Big Brother is gay? Finally, should Augie take a chance and join the chorus at school, or will that be just one more reason for the bullies to target him?

Augie may wish that a fairy godmother like the ones in his book could appear and make all his problems disappear, but he lives in Camden, New Jersey, where magic of any kind is nonexistent and problems are a dime a dozen: "The armpit of the world," Augie calls Camden, "home to losers and drug dealers." However, when a real crisis threatens Augie's school and the health and future of his whole community, Augie learns that, with a little hard work and perseverance, a different sort of magic might just come about after all.

On the surface of things, the premise of A.C.E. Bauer's debut novel is an odd one. The book consists of a series of fairy tales, which begins with the classic Cinderella tale "Donkey Skin" and travels through history. These are interspersed within Augie's own story, a gritty urban tale that touches on issues of tolerance, bullying, violence and self-acceptance. With all these elements, NO CASTLES HERE would be an ambitious project for any author.

Remarkably, Bauer fulfills the task seemingly with ease, resulting in a story in which magic can seem real but in which the real magic occurs in the relationships between people, in the truly remarkable things that happen when a community bonds together. Augie is a realistic character who screws up, tells lies and turns his back on people who care for him, but nevertheless has a good heart, particularly once he learns to trust and care for the people who also value him. In stories, music and, especially, community, Augie discovers that magic might exist after all, even in humble old Camden, New Jersey.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 10, 2009

No Castles Here
by A.C.E. Bauer

  • Publication Date: March 10, 2009
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling
  • ISBN-10: 0375839224
  • ISBN-13: 9780375839221