Melissa Keil’s The Secret Science of Magic is a unique and compelling twist on the typical romance novel. Shift away from the typical “quirky” star-crossed lover archetypes, Keil has created the kind of relatable and complex character that exist in real life, but rarely ever play a starring role in the media.
Sophia is so much more than a child prodigy – Keil lets the readers see the struggles “gifted” students often go through regarding their social lives, relationships and fears about the future. Sophia’s intelligence often seems like more of a curse than a blessing, as her logic-based way of thinking means she has a hard time empathising with people. Kiel’s writing makes it clear that Sophia’s problems won’t magically disappear if she falls in love, but it does show how the right person should be able to support her through her struggles.
Josh is not the average love interest. He’s nerdy, loves magic, and doesn’t know where his future is headed. While he feels a connection with Sophia and tries to impress her, he never tries to force himself on her and he does his best to understand her boundaries. He’s a refreshing break from the suave, over-confident guys that are usually the focus of young adult novels.
While initially Josh sees Sophia as a romanticised version of herself, he’s interested in her because he likes her eccentricities, not because he wants to fix them. Their romance is beautiful and unique because neither of them are forced to change their nature in order to make the relationship work. The novel focuses on the two getting to know each other, not rushing into a relationship that acts as a solution to all of their problems.
The Secret Science of Magic is a sweet and heartwarming love story that puts focus on the people behind the romance. Kiel gives us characters that are wonderfully flawed, and we love them for it. They represent real teenagers, not the glamorised versions the media shows us that don’t actually exist in real life. Characters like Josh and Sophia should be celebrated, and used as examples.