by David Lubar
Published by Tor Books
Buy it online
I'm Not Harry
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Hidden Talents is a recent Starscape title, one of a series of reprints of children's and young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Some of the series are long out-of-print classics, others more recent (this one was originally published in 1999).
David Lubar is a relatively new writer. Hidden Talents was his first novel, though he has written a number of other novels, some short stories and has participated in a classroom teaching text since then. It looks like a promising start to his writing career.
Over the years, there have been plenty of stories written about young wizards or gifted children at boarding school. Of these, Diana Wynne Jones' and J.K. Rowling's books are among the better-known examples.
Still, if Harry Potter had been taken to Edgeview Alternative, the school in this novel, instead of to Hogwarts, he would probably have run screaming back to the Dursleys.
Edgeview is not a school of witchcraft and wizardry. It's an alternative school set up to cater to boys who have been thrown out of other schools and are at the end of the road. What makes it different from other schools of this type is that among the ordinary bullies and bad boys are a number of students who are there because of powers they can't control. There's Torchie, who causes fires with his mind, Cheater whose telepathy gets him into trouble for supposedly cheating in exams, Trash the telekinetic whose room looks as if it has been hit by a hurricane, Flinch who seems to see danger coming in time to dodge and Lucky, who finds things and is believed to be a thief.
Hidden Talents is seen from the viewpoint of Martin, who has been sent to Edgeview after being thrown out of normal schools for his smart mouth. It is he who realizes that his friends have abilities and aren't merely misbehaved. He works to persuade them that they actually have special gifts and encourages them to develop these. The boys must work together, using their abilities, to save the school, which is in danger of being closed down.
For a time, Martin is a little envious of his friends for their psychic gifts, but then finds that he may, after all, have a talent of his own -- and it may just be Martin who is able to make use of his gift to save the school from closure, at a time when the others' more spectacular abilities simply aren't any use.
Boarding school stories about kids saving the school were more common at one time than they are now, but they were never about the kind of kids who inhabit Edgeview. Enid Blyton's characters would sneer at these. They would be unlikely to be accepted even at the X-Men's boarding school. The characters are generally likable, though, and the story entertainingly written. Martin's smart mouth makes him the ideal narrator for this sort of story, observing the quirks of the characters he meets at Edgeview and the school's more bizarre aspects. Children will recognize the bullies in the story and wince; fantasy tale or not, they may be a little exaggerated, but not by much.
The novel is easy and entertaining reading which children in late elementary school should enjoy. | May 2003
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.