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Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

Secondhand Charm
Julie Berry
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Date: October 12, 2010
352 pages
ISBN-10: 159990516
ISBN-13: 978-1599905112
Lexile : 680L

Book Overview:

Secondhand Charm is the story of Evie Pomeroy, a gifted and talented girl from the little village of Maundley—or so she thinks.  It turns out, she has much to learn about herself and her gifts.  Evie begins her journey of discovery when she wins a royal scholarship to study medicine at the university in the capital city.  She lives through highway robbery, shipwreck, and a bit of heartbreak to discover her true identity.

Julie Berry has penned a story that is, dare I say, “charming”.  Evie is a strong, independent female lead who must choose between the easy way and the honorable way to live her life.  Ms. Berry puts together an inventive plot that has some unexpected twists so that the reader is never quite sure what will happen next.  Her villain is revealed to us only through Evie’s realizations as the plot unfolds, a neat trick that few author’s achieve as well as Ms. Berry has done in this story. Lastly, the ending is not the trite ending of every other fairy tale, and the author may have left the door open for a second story, if she cares to pursue one.

Positive Content:

  • The young people in this book are respectful to their elders throughout, although this attitude does not keep Evie from spotting the possible danger to herself posed by at least three of the adults in the book.
  • Evie is ambitious, setting high goals for herself: education, excellence, and a life practicing medicine.  Her best friend also displays a desire for academic excellence. Aidan, as the main male role model in the book, surpasses his peers due to hard work and determination.
  • Aidan is respectful and considerate toward his widowed mother and Evie.  He is protective, when he thinks it necessary, and shows support for Evie’s life goals.
  • The chief antagonist of the story shows mercy at the very end although it is clear that hate still exists.

Content to Consider (Spoilers):

Violence/Peril: OCCASSIONAL, NOT GRAPHIC
  • One person, Evie’s mother, is accidentally killed before the action of the book commences.  Her death is described during the resolution of the story.
  • Evie is bitten by a snake and is unharmed.
  • An expectant mother goes into labor and fears for her life; Evie delivers the child safely.  No details are given.
  • One person dies in this book, mortally injured in a brutal attack by a highwayman.  The attack is not detailed; however, the man dies from bleeding out in Evie’s arms.
  • Aidan tries to protect the rest of the passengers by putting up a fight, but he is unable to overcome the bandit.
  • The rest of the coach passengers are threatened by the highwayman and are in fear of their lives.
  • Aidan is trussed up and threatened with death.
  • A man aboard ship is bitten by a venomous snake.  He does not die.
  • Several passengers aboard the ship, including Aidan, die from drowning during the shipwreck, but are mysteriously brought back to life.
  • The story is told of a duel in which one person dies.
  • Several people are injured during a fight at the end of the book, but none are critically injured.
  • Evie’s serpent is near death (thus endangering Evie’s life), but they are both healed.
  • Prince Ronald wants to kill Evie to silence her.  He wants to kill the king to supplant him.
  • A plot to poison the king is uncovered.
  • The crew of a ship is given sleeping potion.  They are unharmed.
  • Evie and the king are threatened with a weapon, but they are unharmed.
  • The leviathans engage in a huge battle, each intending to kill the other.
  • One creature is threatened with a knife.
Crude, Vulgar, or Profane Language: NONE
  • There is no crude, vulgar, or profane language in this book.
Sexual Content: MILD
  • The story of the serpentinas, as told to Evie after she discovered she was a serpentina, begins with a story of a love affair between a married queen and a sea god that created the first serpentina.
  • All romantic interactions between the heroine and her love interest are limited to kisses, hugs, and cuddling.
  • Evie has a run-in with the king’s treasurer in which he seems to be on the verge of making improper advances to her.  Just when he’s getting creepy, they are interrupted and Evie makes her escape.
  • Evie witnesses several kisses between Princess Annalise and the king which make Evie very uncomfortable.
  • Evie also witnesses Prince Ronald (not the husband) and Princess Annalise cuddling on top of the covers immediately following the wedding while they plot together. It is obvious to an adult audience that they have an intimate relationship; however, I think the implications will fly over the heads of a young audience.  In any case, nothing beyond kisses occurs in the scene.
Drug/Alcohol:  OCCASSIONAL
  • The characters drink wine at several meals, but nobody is portrayed as inebriated.
  • A drug is used in the wine dispensed to the crew to put them out of action.
Negative Content:
  • Evie discovers that her grandfather has lied to her for her entire life about her parentage and about his identity.
  • Evie lies about her relationship to Aidan in order to continue her trip to the capital without causing a scandal.
  • Evie is unwilling to admit the truth about herself to her grandfather and leaves him wondering about her safety.
  • Evie allows Annalise to present her under a false name and continues the deception, even though she knows the deception is wrong.
Spiritual Content:
  • A general belief in God is upheld throughout with references to a cathedral, to the grace of God, and the rewards God might give to a person who shows kindness to others.  The religious rites and persons in this book appear to fit the Catholic mold.
  • The names of God and Jesus are not taken in vain in this book.
  • The sea god’s existence is integral to the creation story of the serpentinas and the leviathans.
  • Evie places a lot of faith in the secondhand charms purchased from a gypsy woman: one for love, one for luck, and one for protection from snake bites.  She notices that men pay more attention to her as long as she wears the love charm, and she gives credit to the luck charm for her fortunate escapes, etc.
  • The serpentinas and their leviathans are credited with special powers including: long life, influence, cunning, beauty, healing, and possibly, resurrection of the dead.

My Personal Opinions:

I think Secondhand Charm is a fine book to read aloud to kids at bedtime, and that’s pretty high praise. The world building in Secondhand Charm may be satisfying to a younger audience, but older readers who like to lose themselves in another setting will find only the standard fairy tale world with nothing to set it apart except the interesting idea of a university that allows women to enroll.

The characters are generally an enjoyable group, and Evie herself, is a memorable character. However, none of the rest of the “cast” is as developed as Evie, not even Aidan, and I would have enjoyed understanding him more.

This is one case where the first-person point of view, in which you expect to encounter a strong voice, didn’t work all the time.  This may have been due to the tricky nature of having silent, mind-to-mind conversation between Evie and Clair and the need to communicate Evie’s personal thoughts to the reader.

As the climax of the book approached, the sudden reappearance of Evie’s grandfather and Aidan’s widowed mother was somewhat jarring to me, as an adult, and seemed too coincidental.  All was explained by the end of the story, making their part of the ending more plausible, but at the time, I was taken by surprise.

All together, the story works. Be assured; when Ms. Berry’s next book is published, I hope to enjoy another super-imaginative tale.

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About the Author

Kathrese McKee started life as a Systems Engineer at EDS, spent time in real estate, taught middle grade Reading and ESL in Texas, and settled down to blog and write speculative fiction for Young Adults.

As a teacher, she fell in love with books written for Teens and Young Adults. Her favorite books are “coming of age” stories about young people on the difficult road of self-discovery.

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