Finder’s Magic is a historical fiction novel set in early-20th century Atlanta. Though the cover does not make it obvious that this is historical fiction, one can tell upon reading no more than the first paragraph. While historical fiction can be a hard sell for most of my students, I think this novel will hook them. The intrigue, suspense, action, and murder all come together in a very engaging story that I think girls and boys alike will enjoy.
In December of 1911, Hank McCord is almost twelve years old. He and his Ma work at the mill, in Atlanta, Georgia, despite the health dangers. Hank’s Pa is dead and the two of them have no other means of making a living. It’s not too bad for Hank, and they do what they must to survive. Until the day that Hank witnesses the murder of his best friend, 16-year old Jeb. Two of the mill bosses beat Jeb to death as they accuse him of turning them in for their “operation”. When they discover that Hank has witnessed their crime, they set off to kill him, too.
As he escapes, Hank falls in with a young Negro boy named Calvin. Though neither of them particularly likes the other at first, fate forces them to work together. Calvin introduces Hank to Miz Mancala, whom he calls a finder and the white folks call a witch. The old blind woman seems ancient to the boys but is also exceptionally wise. Together, the three of them manage to avoid the men who killed Jeb, the Ku Klux Klan, and try to avoid certain death at the hands of one or both.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book, but boy am I glad that I did! C.M. Fleming has woven a gripping adventure story that will pull kids in. Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned murder story? At the same time, the reader feels like they are a part of 1911 Atlanta, where whites and blacks are still suffering, despite the Civil War’s end almost 40 years before. I do think some kids might be initially put off by the dialect, but the voice that Fleming uses is perfect and captures Hank perfectly. Plus, the language is beautiful, with gorgeous similes and metaphors woven into the story.
I can see this being an interesting companion read for Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. Despite the difference in time period, both deal with the repercussions of slavery. While Anderson’s book deals with early America, Fleming’s story bookends the era. Great for discussion (literature circles, perhaps?), I could see students really learning about slavery from both books, which delve deeper than the typical textbook.