Think – a cross between James Patterson’s Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of Wimpy Kid series and Sarina Dories, well-sketched, fast-paced series, Womby’s School for Wayward Witches. Enjoy any or all of those and you will get a big kick out of Tennessee author Jerry Harwood’s Freckles: The Dark Wizard. The coming-of-age tale of Simon, who is hobbled by shyness and puberty’s insecurity, and embarrassed by a facial feature most humans overlook will at first seem like something read many times. It is not. Nonetheless, the story reminds readers that in high school no one wants to stand out unless they are cool. In short, most kids want to be special.
Simon could not “control his freckles,” or “decide who he wanted to be..” As the tale reveals, “A weak wizard was always subject to others’ opinions and whims.” Flame Rock Middle School is the crucible where ground down to a point that makes readers’ hearts reach out, the boy slowly discovers that weakness or strength begins in one’s own eyes. He learns the struggle is to accept what you see.
For example, the description of spirited play in RumpleBottom ball – basketball for us non-magics:
A shot of fire came from its mouth and the gnats above the arena floor burnt to ashes. Then a puff of smoke descended on (opponent) Ice Lair’s side of the court. Their players scattered and were easy targets for Flame Rock’s offense. The conjurer for Ice Lair froze as he watched his gnats fall from the sky.
Harwood’s narrative and characters might confuse readers at certain points. I had to reread a few passages. I failed to surrender to the notion that Simon’s magical world looks like the middle school up the block, but nothing is ever as it appears, Accept that, and Freckles is a page-turning delight. The author’s head cheerleader, gym coach and bullies are familiar, but not stereotypic or cliché. The practice of magic differs from that in many other stories, but the parents are very familiar:
In two matches he had broken his nose twice. Mom wanted him out for the season. “Even with magic, bones don’t heal fast,” she warned. But is dad insisted that it be Simon’s decision.
Buy Freckles for any child about to enter middle school, or even early high school. You’ll hear some laughs, when the boy or girl reads it in secret. They will thank you … some day. Some early teens take a lot of granted.