Book Review: Magonia



Title: Magonia

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: April 28 2015

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction (kind of), Romance

Pages: 309


Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak−to live.
All the doctors can do is give her drugs and hop they keep her alive. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of the medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. The sickness catches up with her.

Aza is lost to our world.

And found in another.


Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power. And she can use it to change the world.

As she navigates her new life. Aza discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. In Aza’s hands lies the whole of humanity−including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?


My First Thoughts:

The book cover is absolutely beautiful, it definitely drew me in and convinced me to buy the book. I was also interested in the premise of the story and it read very science fiction to me, which surprised me since I found it in the bestseller section of the bookstore and not a lot of science fictions make it there for young adult.

Story Breakdown:

“I’m neither a genius nor a kid destined to become a wizard. I’m just me. I read stuff. Book are not my only friends, but we’re friendly. So there.”

Aza Ray is a fifteen year old girl with a history of hospitals, a disease so rare that they named it after her, and enough snark and literary references to make someone’s head spin. Her attitude stems from the knowledge that any day she can die, at any moment her heart will stop because she can’t get enough air. She can’t breathe right on Earth and her body shows the signs of it, pale skin, blue lips, veins showing clearly through her thin skin. But she’s strong, she’s been living for more than any doctor thought she would or could, and even after she leaves Earth her strength keeps her from going insane. Aza is a strong heroine that survives the world of Magonia with her snark and determination. She’s the kind of young heroine that tries to do everything by herself until she needs help, and she rarely likes asking for help. She’s a fast learner and a fighter that doesn’t give up when the game changes or all hope seems lost. Sure she has her up days and her down days, but what fifteen year old girl doesn’t? Aza is a very realistic teenage girl that had a rough life, but a loving family.

“I keep waiting for Aza to fall out of the sky and into my arms. I know I sound unbelievably sexist saying that, but I keep wrongfully imaging catching her like a fireman outside a window.

Just thinking this way makes me want to bang my head against the floor.”

Jason is Aza’s best friend, the boy who dressed in an alligator suit and walked miles to go to her birthday party when they were five. He has a quirky character that knows so many factoids, has connections in all places and the brain power of Einstein, and the habit of reciting the numbers of pi that he knows when he panics. Reading from Jason’s point of view every once in a while was refreshing, and Headley did an amazing job keeping his character masculine and separate from Aza. His character may be a little unrealistic in some respects, but really anything can happen and all of his quirks just add to the depth of his personality. He’s a loyal friend that refuses to give up on Aza and does everything in his power to find her, because a life without her is no life at all.

Usually I don’t talk about book themes because they’re usually s subtle that it really isn’t worth it. However, there were a few themes in this book that really stood out and impressed me.

The first theme that was shown was not only gay couples, but gay couples raising a child. I’m not going to say who or anything, but I loved how the author just brought this up in her book. Most authors either force two same sex characters together, or do it so subtly that not many people remember them or the relationship. Headley, on the other hand, makes two of her supporting characters gay and gives them real important parental roles in the story, to show that even gay couples can raise a child up right. This wasn’t a real important theme, but it made me really happy to see it show up in a bestselling and popular book.

Another theme, which is much larger, is environmental changes and the impact of human development on the environment. I know, most of the time this theme isn’t well liked in books because the author just shoves it down your throat and gripes about the same thing all the authors are griping about. However, in this book it actually plays a big role in the story and how it develops. Headley also shows the impact human development has had on the environment, especially on animals that we might not know are actually there. For those who are environmentally conscious, or a student of ecology, some of the things she mentions might be a big eye opener.

Overall Thoughts/Opinion:

Magonia = Treasure Planet + Any other pirate literature+ Birds + Harmony + Creative license + A hyperactive imagination

This story was bloody fantastic. There were so many literary references, like Little Woman, Harry Potter, and Moby Dick to name a few. The characters were so different, unique, and all around likeable. Aza was a strong heroine but knew when she needed help, even when she didn’t always like asking for it. She was also confused, because her life got turned around during a naturally confusing part of childhood. She goes about the confusion well though, not letting it get to her and really shows her character development at the end when she finds her own clarity and answers. She’s snarky, but she’s also kind and always thinking about others, especially those that are not normally thought about. She’s strong but she also has very real weaknesses that she has to overcome on her own.

And Jason, he was definitely refreshing and it was fun reading through his perspective every now and then. He was a male character that wasn’t naturally strong or macho. He was an odd guy that learned pi to impress a girl and then recites it as a panic reaction. He has flaws, very real but manageable flaws that he has to push pass in the story to find Aza. He also doesn’t ignore or try to hide his flaws, everyone knows and he doesn’t care.

The other supporting characters are all pretty realistic, and their actions follow up with what you know of them. Each of them is also different, so that you can remember who is who and not confuse them with another supporting character. And they all add some sort of color or fun to the story that makes their roles that much more important for the supporting cast.

The world building in this story was amazing. The sky is a big empty place and Headley painted it with enough detail to get the ideas across, but left enough room for the readers to paint the finer details. The world she builds is definitely the product of an overactive imagination and a world that any kind of child or creative person would love to see. She also does make an attempt to explain some of the “technologies” and techniques that she uses, and she explains them in a way that doesn’t make the reader feel overloaded with information. Just little explanations here and there, like bread crumbs that lead to the bigger picture.

Speaking of bread crumbs, Headley is another one of those authors that doesn’t tell her readers everything up front. She leaves little details here and there that allow the readers to try to figure out some of the bigger plot points, but not in an obvious way so that most readers know what’s going to happen several pages before it does.

And don’t get me started on the amount of creative license that she used in this story. Fan-bloody-tastic! Most of the time poets are the only ones who use creative license, the ability to ignore the laws of spelling, formatting, and grammar, to add to the literary work, but authors can use it too. Most authors don’t because they view it as unprofessional or something, but Headley uses it a lot in her story to set the mood and drive the feelings home. Never have I seen a young adult book that uses so much creative license, but in a way that actually adds to the story and the reading experience; it was my favorite part of the novel.

Final Thoughts:

I absolutely loved this story, from the characters that run around to the world that Headley builds around them. I also love the fact that her idea for this story came from lore and history, and she actually references some of the things she read and researched in the story itself. It amazes me when authors take an idea from mythology or lore or even early history and just run with it, and that’s what Headley did. This story was definitely a ‘what if’ kind of story that wasn’t half-done. I wouldn’t call this story science fiction, at least not true science fiction, because the author doesn’t completely explain the “technologies”, techniques and the people she created. It’s more of a fantasy set in a real world setting with things that seem kind of high tech, but not really. In fact Aza has a great line that really explains it, “Fine, Jason. It’s magic. I can’t really help you. I don’t get it either.

The only thing I have to complain about is that there were times in which I had to turn off the more logical part of my brain because some of the things Headley describes wouldn’t actually work scientifically. I’m not saying that she explains things wrong, but because of all the science classes I have taken I think of a lot of the more minor details, consequences, and such, like infection and how the anatomy would work. But honestly it doesn’t happen often and all of the creative things she writes and the formatting she uses totally overshadows most of it!



The only reason this book doesn’t get the full five out of five is because of the times I had to turn off the logical side of my brain that knows a lot about biology, anatomy, marine biology and environmental science. But the overall story was beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking. The author knew how to play with emotions and to write to those emotions. I loved all the references that she dropped, and some of the smaller ones appeared so subtly that sometimes I had to read over it again to catch it. I can’t get over how much I enjoyed Aza and Jason’s commentary as they told the story, some points even made me get teary eyed. The romance between them didn’t take precedence, instead it acted like a seasoning to an already amazing dish that just enhanced the original flavor. I loved all the things the author did to set the mood and add to the reader’s experience, and I loved the world that she created. There’s also so many good quotes in this story, about life, love, confusion, fear−you can find a quote for just about anything. I suggest this book to anyone, young and old, because it’s definitely a refreshingly different young adult book.

Related Reviews/Books:

Coming soon!

One thought on “Book Review: Magonia

  1. Pingback: September in a Nut Shell | Of Books and Pen

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