The Magpie’s Library
The Magpie’s Library
My phone was a comforting rectangle of light in the library. So I kept reading. Magpies were omens of ill fortune or death. Magpies were thieves. Magpies were collectors.
Collectors. The back of my neck prickled.
A library was a collection of books. Margaret’s toy house held a collection of dolls. Chloe’s park had a collection of statues, and Beth’s cinema held a collection of films. The same collection, in different forms. The stories of real people, their feelings, their thoughts: everything that made them who they were.
The library took a little with each visit. Each time I left, I’d lost more of the core of me: my spirit, my soul. It was being stolen, piece by piece, by the magpie’s library.
I’d been an idiot. This was never an adventure. Isabel was right.
It was a trap.
Silva, 13, her younger brother Oliver, and Mum have come to Hayling Island to check on Mum’s father. They find him in hospital, suffering from both dementia and a serious infection. Life is further complicated by Mum’s cousin Janet and her daughter Chloe who both disagree with Mum about the best plan of treatment for Grandpa. Desperate for escape, Silva flees to the public library where she encounters a friendly magpie that lures her into a secret room filled with books. Magically, whenever Silva reads one of these books, text flies onto her body, and she experiences the story’s events first hand. For a while, Silva escapes to the magpie’s library whenever she can, but, as her visits mount, she begins to realize that, with every excursion, she leaves part of herself behind. Then she learns that the magpie has also lured Oliver (his paradise is a video arcade, however), and she fears that he may not survive his next trip.
Hayling-Island-native-turned-Torontonian Blair, whose previous works include Transferral and Tangled Planet, writes here for a slightly younger audience, employing only slightly less weighty subject matter. Silva must contend with many problems: her grandfather would prefer that an infection kill him now rather than suffer the extended ravages of Alzheimer’s; her brother has had sporting disappointments that have led him to avoid other people and seek refuge in gaming; and her mum leads a peripatetic lifestyle—dragging her kids along with her—the result of her own unresolved childhood issues. All are ripe for the picking by a clever magpie unless Silva can find a way to stop and/or reverse the damage already done. Told mostly from Silva’s perspective (a few chapters are also narrated by the magpie and his evil manipulator, The Whisperer), The Magpie’s Library is an empowering story about dealing head-on with the curves life throws at you and emerging whole on the other side.
Kay Weisman is a former youth services librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library.