HOUDINI AND ME
By Dan Gutman
The finest magicians are slightly like one of the best clergymen, or novelists. They could also be skeptical concerning the commerce they ply — nothing exams your religion fairly like realizing how the tips are executed — however they’re by no means cynical. At some degree, some piece of them nonetheless desires to imagine within the thriller.
Harry Mancini is a fifth-grade boy who lives together with his widowed mom in uptown Manhattan. Specifically, he lives at 278 West 113th Street — within the very home the place a century in the past Harry Houdini spent the final twenty years of his life. That reality, plus the similarity of their names, implies that one Harry is obsessive about the opposite. And possibly vice versa, since magic is on the coronary heart of Dan Gutman’s new center grade novel, “Houdini and Me.”
In the opening chapters, younger Harry suffers a foul bump on the pinnacle whereas he and a good friend are enjoying close to the prepare tracks. When he involves within the hospital, he spies a mysterious cellphone among the many containers of sweet by his mattress, and earlier than lengthy he’s having a vigorous textual content change with what seems to be Houdini’s ghost.
Gutman (“The Homework Machine,” “The Genius Files”) is an outdated hand at this type of factor. He used an analogous time-journey strategy in his Baseball Card Adventure collection for biographical tales like “Babe & Me,” “Jackie & Me” and “Honus & Me.”
“Houdini and Me” suits proper in. As with the baseball books, the textual content right here is sprinkled with outdated images and memorabilia so as to add a way of verisimilitude. And as with these books, the story appears like a reasonably slipshod scaffolding thrown up round a handful of historic tidbits. There’s a spooky supernatural thriller — is Houdini attempting to modify locations with Harry and escape the shackles of loss of life? — and a nod to the same old grade-faculty angst: a threatening bully, an argument between finest associates. But Gutman’s coronary heart is generally within the nonfiction, it appears. Like Mary Pope Osborne and her Magic Tree House collection, he makes use of the rudiments of plot to introduce kids to the wonders of the previous.
Here’s the place I cop to being a complete magic geek. When I used to be Harry’s age I subscribed to Hocus Pocus journal and attended sleepaway magic camp on Long Island, and one in all my final pre-pandemic cultural outings was a visit to the Houdini Museum in Midtown Manhattan. Gutman clearly isn’t writing for individuals like me: Readers who already know lots about Houdini gained’t be shocked by something in “Houdini and Me.” But those that know the title and never a lot else will get a great sense of the essential biography (together with the truth that his title wasn’t actually Houdini).
Gutman writes with a robust sense of place, and contains footage of Morningside Heights together with the Houdini images, so even non-New Yorkers will come away with a really feel for the neighborhood and its charms: Riverside Park, Morningside Park, the peacocks on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He additionally slips in some motivational patter (“You cannot get past fear unless you confront it,” Houdini texts Harry. “If you can do that, you can accomplish what appears to be impossible”) and muses curiously on the altering nature of fame: “In the 21st century, it occurred to me, people can become famous overnight by simply putting on some silly costume or by posting an outrageous tweet that goes viral. In Houdini’s day, you had to actually do something amazing to get famous. And after you did it, there was no internet to spread the word.”
The novel ends with an inexpensive trick, such that some might really feel Gutman has crossed the road to cynicism. Oh, properly. The story is diverting sufficient — and if a e book about Houdini can’t be escapist, what can?