Summary: The Magical Imperfect
The Magical Imperfect is a middle grade verse novel about a boy named Etan. Etan develops selective mutism after his mom has to go to a treatment facility for a mental disorder in 1980’s San Francisco. Around that time, mini-earthquakes are frequent and Etan tries to keep up his daily schedule, which is basically school and then time with his grandfather. Sometimes, he helps an older shopkeeper in the neighborhood walk her dog and run errands. It is while he is on one of those errands that he meets Malia, a Filipina-American girl with severe eczema.
Etan and Malia become fast friends and he gets a closer look at how debilitating her eczema is. He also realizes that Malia loves singing and has a beautiful singing voice. Etan wants to take Malia’s suffering away, and he thinks his grandfather’s Dead Sea clay can make a difference — perhaps even heal Malia’s eczema. He also suggests that she sing in the community’s talent show. But will the clay work? And will Malia and Etan’s friendship survive the challenges it faces?
I really enjoyed this story. Etan is a relatable character and my heart went out to him. His friendships get a bit strained when he stops speaking because some of them don’t understand why he can’t just speak. Thankfully, most people are kind and understanding — especially his grandfather. I also loved watching him navigate his relationship with his father and balancing his grandfather’s Jewish religion and his father’s withdrawal from their faith, and preference instead for baseball.
The heart of this story is Malia and Etan’s friendship. They both bring out the best in each other; Malia’s outgoing nature helps Etan come out of his shell and he speaks quite frequently and enthusiastically when he is with her. They share a beautiful friendship, and I especially liked how (realistically) Etan sometimes tells Malia to stop scratching — but it’s not that easy, is it?
The verse format was satisfying, providing enough detail and rhythm to carry this story to the end. Chris Baron is a phenomenal poet and writer. I highlighted several verses throughout the story. Finally, the earthquakes create the perfect backdrop as things keep changing and shifting for Etan, Malia, their families, and their community.
Overall: The Magical Imperfect
The Magical Imperfect is an incredibly moving verse novel about friendship, family, body image, and community. Set in 1989 San Francisco, this middle grade book highlights the ever changing landscape of a place, especially with immigration and people coming in and out of our lives.
With a protagonist dealing with selective mutism, a character with severe eczema and a parent checking into a mental health facility, this book touches on mental and physical health conditions and how they can affect the way we view ourselves, but also how the best kind of healing we can find is from love, friendship and connection.