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Literature / A Gift of Magic

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A Gift of Magic is a novel written by Lois Duncan in The '70s.

An old woman dies and gifts her grandchildren with talents. To her oldest grandchild she gives the gift of dance, her grandson, the gift of music and to Nancy, the one that resembles her the most, she gives the gift of magic.

The story takes place following the divorce of Nancy's parents. In the past her family had moved around all over the world, which gave her a great love of geography, and at the beginning of the novel they settle down in her mother's old hometown in Florida. Nancy, upset at her parents' divorce, begins to develop her Psychic Powers and has to come to terms with what that also entails.

Despite the somewhat similar premise, this was actually written a few years before Carrie and is much less action-packed and violent.

Not to be confused with The Gift of the Magi which is something completely different.

This novel provides examples of

  • Amicable Exes: The parents. They get along; they just can't stay married because the kids' mother wants to settle down in one place, and their father has a continued need to travel the world.
  • Artistic License – Statistics: In one chapter Nancy is given a standard test to measure psychic ability. She is asked to pick, without looking, all the white cards out of a deck of cards filled with an equal amount of black and white cards. Because she wishes to hide her ability, she picks all the black cards so that she would get all the "wrong" answers and fail the test. The examiner sees right through Nancy's ploy because there is an equal probability of picking only white or only black cards and explains that if she really wanted to screw up the test, she should have picked a roughly equal amount of black and white cards at random.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Brendon, to Nancy's irritation.
  • De Terminator: Kirby is hellbent on becoming a dancer.
  • Direct Line to the Author: At the end of the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, it's mentioned that Nancy's mother had one more daughter named Lois, who had the gift of storytelling.
  • Double Standard: Nancy believes that her sister is "badly adjusted" because she would rather pursue her dream of becoming a dancer than chase boys and live at home. After this, she accuses her brother of wasting his talent by not taking his musical ability seriously.
  • Female Misogynist: Nancy, at least in regards to her sister wanting to be a dancer instead of staying home.
  • For Your Own Good: Supposedly the reason Nancy (maybe) uses her powers to push her sister down the stairs and break her foot.
  • Functional Magic: The gift of magic in this book is essentially ESP with a few atypical features, like the ability to communicate with people living in the past, and the potential to give other people talents and magical powers.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Justified. All of the siblings are given "gifts" in a particular area, so they're enormously talented in their respective skills and don't need to work very hard to achieve a high level of proficiency.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Nancy's sister is named Kirby.
  • Healing Hands: After breaking her sister's foot, Nancy feels guilty and (maybe) uses her powers to help heal it.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Derived mostly from the double standards in this book.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Nancy wishes her sister would stay home and not go to dance school, and her sister falls down the stairs and breaks her foot. Her mentor argues that Kirby skipping breakfast that morning because she thought a dancer should be thin is a more likely cause; it's left ambiguous who is right. Nancy still feels horrible whichever it was.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: See above; while Nancy's powers are definitely real, how strong they are is up for debate. Her ESP works, but it's never confirmed either way whether she is also a strong enough telekinetic or chance manipulator to actually shove Kirby down the stairs and then heal her, or whether those were coincidences caused by ordinary means.
  • Mental Time Travel: Nancy is able to see the past, specifically her grandmother's bestowing of gifts on her and her siblings. She is even able to dialogue with her long-deceased grandmother.
  • Mundane Utility: Infuriatingly, all Nancy tends to do with her powers is household chores and to occasionally meddle with other people's lives
  • Parents as People: Unlike a number of Duncan's stories involving divorced parents, this one portrays both parents sympathetically, having split up because their respective goals in life are mutually incompatible.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Nancy has a bit of a Stay in the Kitchen attitude going on towards her older sister.
  • Psychic Powers: Nancy's psychic powers drive much of the plot of the story.
  • Sadist Teacher: Ms. Green, the social studies teacher after finding out about Nancy's ESP. She purposefully gives C's to Nancy when she does A level work, and when Kirby is depressed after breaking her foot and isn't doing well in school, Ms. Green coldly askes her "You don't read with your leg, do you?"
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Ms. Green is old enough to retire at the end of the book, and does so because she doesn't want to deal with Brendon (whom she never even met).
  • Superpower Lottery: Of the gifts given to the grandchildren, Kirby gets to be a talented dancer, Brendon a gifted musician and Lois a writer, but Nancy gets freaking magic powers. Arguably Lois got the best deal because Nancy and Brendon squandered their abilities and Kirby's talent would be of no use to her by the time she gets to her mid-forties, except maybe as a teacher. Lois, however, is frequently using her power past the age most people would have retired, and she's gotten several movie deals out of it.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Subverted. Kirby is the Tomboy. She's more athletic and driven than her sister, Nancy (the Girly Girl). She shuns the idea of chasing after boys, making friends with the catty locals and staying at home as a housewife, but instead of excelling at sports, she's a talented dancer.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Nancy, despite being the heroine and being described as such, is not a nice person. She (maybe) knocks her sister down the stairs to prevent her from attending dance school and "ruining her life". Although it's subconscious and she does feel bad after, it's still shocking as hell. In addition to this, Nancy tries to use her Psychic Powers to run her mother's life and get her parents back together.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: After a Time Skip, it's revealed that Brendon only uses his musical talent for playing at parties, Kirby ends up becoming a famous dancer, their mother has another daughter named Lois (who is implied to be the author), and Nancy hardly ever uses her magic for anything but spying on her children.