The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey, by Lisa Papademetriou

Fun fact about me: in high school, I was the book reporter for our school newspaper. I mostly wrote about fantasy books that weren’t always trending on the market, and I’m pretty sure no student took me at my word, but I still enjoyed seeing my reviews printed in black and white. I suppose you could say working on the newspaper brought me to this blog.

Today’s book, The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey, was the second book that I reviewed for the paper. I don’t remember a word of what I wrote before, and looking for the newspaper it was printed on would be a futile effort. In any case, I came home for winter break this year and found the book in my parents’ library, and took a trip down a merry, magical lane of memories.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey: Papademetriou, Lisa:  9781595140746: Amazon.com: Books

Veronica Lopez and Heather Simms are two New Jersey high schoolers with very different ideas of fun. Veronica would rather read fantasy books while Heather would prefer fashion magazines. But when they wind up at the bookstore looking for the same book, they accidentally find themselves transported inside the book—a classic fantasy called Queen of Twilight. Suddenly, Veronica and Heather find themselves smack in the center of a classic fantasy story of elves, wizards, dragons, and magical destinies. They’ll have to play by the books’ rules in order to get home, but it’s not long before their presence starts to majorly screw things up…

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book (how many reviews have I started with that nugget of info?). But that’s only because it lovingly pays homage to classic fantasy tropes. You know: the wise, all-knowing wizard; the beautiful princess destined for greatness; the dashing warrior elves; the fearsome dragon that dwells in a lonely cave, etc. You’ll catch several references to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings, among other fantasy favorites.

This book is kind of like Disney’s Enchanted, which took familiar Disney characters and story beats and both made fun of and paid homage to them. But now, we’re paying homage to familiar fantasy tropes. The characters represent the various archetypes of fantasy, such as the old no-nonsense wizard and the meek earth-dwelling hobbit. And yet the characters don’t feel like cutouts. They are real and vulnerable and lovable.

Strathorn, Doggett, and Chattergee, the wizard, hobbit, and lovable woodland critter respectively, are a fun and likable traveling company. Doggett is my favorite of the three, solely because he represents the hobbits, my favorite characters from The Lord of the Rings. He is so patient, kind, lovable, and unwaveringly optimistic. I like Strathorn and Chattergee too, but hobbits have a special place in my heart. Plus, he is a Kiblar elf whose specialty is making tree-baked cookies. I’ll leave you to figure out what that’s a play on.

This book pokes the most fun at the names of magical locations. I’ve always wondered how some writers come up with these crazy names, but this book takes it to an extreme. I look at some of these names, and I still don’t know how to pronounce them. But that’s the point.

Like I said, there is some surprising emotional depth here. The plot and character development of may seem predictable, but it comes from the way everything intentionally harkens back to traditional fantasy. I see Strathorn, and I think of every old, wise wizard I’ve met in fantasy. I see Doggett, and I think of ordinary people whose courage made them a hero. Chattergee is every talking woodland critter that rose, often comically, to the occasion. Maybe I love these characters more for what they represent than who they actually are, but again, that’s the point.

Veronica and Heather play it straight against the fantastical weirdness they encounter. While their dialogue and personalities are sometimes a little bland, at least compared to the other characters, they’re both still likable and have compelling arcs. I definitely related to Veronica’s addiction to fantasy!

It might not be a lyrical literary masterpiece (at least compared to other classic fantasy works), but the emotional resonance for the characters and story beats of fantasy still rings true. I can’t say I love it as much as the original works that it’s parodying, but it’s still a nostalgic story that, even after all these years, feels like coming home.

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