The Magic of Melwick Orchard by Rebecca Caprara – Review by Dana Dykiel
When I was younger, I was confused by the phrase wait until you get into the real world. It seemed to imply, somehow, that my world wasn’t real. Evidently, I knew adults had jobs, romances, different responsibilities – but were these experiences larger, or more important than my own? Did adults feel joy and sadness more strongly? I was scared of the extremities of adulthood, that it would negate everything I had already lived through.
Of course this isn’t the case: children feel just as strongly as adults do. Sometimes they even go through tremendous, trying experiences that seem ‘adult,’ such as moving across the country or the illness of a close family member.
The Magic of Melwick Orchard, a middle-grade novel by Rebecca Caprara, centers on these complexities. Isa, a spirited twelve-year-old, has a sister diagnosed with cancer. In the resulting chaos and grief, Isa feels as if she is becoming invisible to her family. Even so, Isa’s life holds moments of intensity and wonder. In a particularly poignant scene at Junie’s hospital bed, Isa pinches her sister’s knee under the covers, and Junie nudges her back. Isa reflects that “[s]isters speak all kinds of languages,” and that “many of them don’t require words” – a quiet sense of comfort in difficult circumstances.
In the orchard, Isa finds a mysterious tree that grows objects from its branches, and cradles her to sleep in a time of emotional upheaval. Yet the tree’s magic isn’t enough to cure Junie, or to fix Isa’s relationships with her family. The tree becomes a symbol of hope, a testament to imagination and wonder, while also reminding the reader that there are no simple solutions to thorny problems. Just as in real life, the tree provides opportunity, but it’s Isa’s job to make something of it.
At its core, this ambiguity illustrates the complexities present in all our lives, regardless of age. Through the lens of nostalgia and hindsight, it can be easy to split childhood and adulthood into separate spheres, with only childhood holding a unique sense of softness and wonder. But, as novels like The Magic of Melwick Orchard attest, that dichotomy is too simple. While reflecting on her life, magical and non-magical elements alike, Isa takes the imaginative, optimistic phrase “[a]nything is possible” and, in a “startling realization,” understands it can apply to things “good and bad.”
The portrayal of magic is what struck me the most in Caprara’s novel. A metaphor for both the miraculous and imperfect of our world, magic becomes a tangible part of ourselves. It isn’t something we outgrow; it’s something we’re born experiencing and something we keep with us forever. Just as life offers cruelty and challenges, so it offers joys and wonder.
Dana Dykiel is a book enthusiast and executive editor for Polyphony LIT. Dana’s own work has appeared in publications such as The Blue Marble Review and Kingdoms in the Wild. To keep up with Dana’s current projects, visit danadykiel.wordpress.com.