The middle grade fantasy “Even and Odd” adds to Sarah Beth Durst’s shelves of fantasy books—from middle grade to young adult to adult. And in this magical story, sisters Emma and Olivia become the title characters, Even and Odd, because they share their magic. Each gets to have magic on alternating days, so while their nicknames are Even and Odd, it doesn’t always quite work out that way. (Some months have 31 days, as is pointed out in the story.) Even loves magic and works tirelessly to gain control of it while Odd doesn’t really want it at all. She just wants to help at the local animal shelter.
They live in the very ordinary town of Stony Haven, Connecticut, where the only magic is that which comes from the other side of the border—the border to the magical world of Firoth. And Even and Odd’s parents run a store that caters to magical creatures who visit our world from that magical world. It’s called a border store, and their mom spends time in Firoth promoting the store. But one day, strange things begin to happen.
It’s Even’s day to do magic, and she is desperately preparing to take a magical test of her abilities. It’s more difficult for her to practice because she only has magic half the time that her peers do—every other day. She turns herself into a skunk for practice, but then finds that she can’t turn herself back. Even the next day, when it’s her sister’s turn to have magic, she’s stuck as a skunk. A imperious elf appears at their store and makes Even feel insecure about her magic, and right then, a young unicorn comes into their shop. At that point, it’s become obvious that something strange has happened to the magical beings’ ability to perform magic, and it seems that the gateway to Firoth isn’t working. While the magical beings in the store are discussing whether that’s why magic isn’t working, the young unicorn becomes very upset.
He had snuck away from his home in Firoth to shop in a border store, and his parents didn’t know he was gone. Jeremy (his chosen name, not his real name) plays a card game called Farmcats, and he loves Sprite; neither the cards nor Sprite is available in his magical homeland. He was ready to go home with those items safely ensconced in his pink sparkly backpack, one that’s shaped perfectly for a unicorn, when things went wonky. Now he can’t camouflage himself with magic (unicorns and centaurs can make their hind legs look like a motorcycle or bicycle), and his parents are going to be furious when they realize he’s gone.
When the arrogant elf in the store demands that the girls’ father stay to work on a spell for her instead of checking out the gateway to Firoth, Even and Odd offer to go to see what is happening. Jeremy goes with them. They worry about how they will hide a unicorn from ordinary people because the spells that would usually change his form aren’t working. Luckily, Jeremy has borrowed an invisibility cloak, and that serves to get him and the girls safely to behind the bagel shop where the magical gateway is located (a bagel shop, incidentally, that makes french toast bagels!). And at first, the gateway isn’t working—they can’t even see it.
When the gateway appears briefly, they all go through. But before they can do much more than look around to see what Firoth is like, the gateway disappears. Now Even and Odd are stuck in Firoth with Jeremy, not knowing where their mother is or how they can contact her, and without any way to get home to their father. As the trio goes in search of Jeremy’s home—it has inexplicably disappeared and a lake has appeared instead—they see the chaos that is developing in Firoth. Magical creatures are being displaced, their homes are being moved randomly, dragons appear where there should be none, and other strange events are occurring.
They think they’ll be able to solve the mystery when Jeremy’s family tells them to visit Lady Vell, the person in charge of border magic. But it turns out that Lady Vell is not the answer to the problem, but the problem itself. And Even and Odd find out more about their own beginnings than they had known, including why they have to share their magic. Along the way, Even and Odd learn a lot about themselves and what they are willing to do and sacrifice to get their family back together again. Each learns important life lessons about magic and about native intelligence. Even learns that magic doesn’t solve all problems while Odd learns that some magic can be very useful indeed.
Kids who enjoy fantasy will really like this adventure. The magical creatures and Durst’s world building make the land of Firoth, with its yellow brick road, one that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will be delighted to see shrieking mermaids, trolls, flying dragons, flower fairies, and many more magical beings all drawn with Durst’s seemingly magical pen. A bonus that parents and teachers will love is the wonderful message that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and that nothing is more important than doing the right thing.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Clarion Books, the publisher, for review purposes.