Fifth-grader Robbie Darko has been obsessed with becoming a magician for years, but the illusions he performs tend to end in disaster. Robbie is less than excited when his grandmother moves in with his family temporarily, but could Grandma Melvyn--with her bedazzled sweatshirts, steady stream of insults, and Wheel of Fortune obsession--actually be a master of misdirection herself? The testy intergenerational relationship between Robbie and his grandmother forms the heart of the story; the family's financial troubles, Robbie's father's frequent absences, and Robbie's friendships hover at the periphery. Humor and poignancy, triumph and failure are balanced throughout, though Beaty (Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies) sends the story veering to tragedy in the final pages in a way that is likely to surprise (and possibly upset) readers. Nonetheless, while Robbie explains early on that he won't be divulging any magicians' secrets ("If you're reading this book to find out how magic tricks work... you're reading the wrong story"), readers will come away learning at least one key to making magic: hard work. Ages 8-12. Agent: Edward Necarsulmer IV, McIntosh & Otis. (Apr.)Copyright 2013 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Gr 4-6--Fifth grade has been tough for Robbie Darko, an aspiring illusionist who can't perform even the simplest trick without accidentally setting things on fire. His dad constantly travels for work, his mom tries to help make ends meet with a demanding new job, his teachers are fed up with his havoc-wreaking magic tricks, and his little brother is a huge pain. To make matters worse, Robbie is asked to give up his bedroom to eccentric and unrelentingly cantankerous Grandma Melvyn (actually, his great-great-aunt). Robbie eventually learns that Grandma Melvyn was once a celebrated magician. With the help of his affable friend Cat, he slowly earns Grandma's approval and, ultimately, her trust and affection. She not only coaches Robbie in showmanship and sleight of hand, but she also guides him down the path to self-confidence and self-discipline. Robbie's maturation is ultimately tested when Grandma Melvyn makes a final trip to the hospital. Beaty develops well-rounded main and supporting characters with genuine flaws and emotions, skillfully building their relationships. Though the protagonist's flashback narration occasionally meanders, it has an authentic middle-grade voice that will have readers laughing out loud. The moments where Robbie takes responsibility for his mistakes and shows vulnerability will serve as positive examples for young audiences. Satisfying and enjoyable, Dorko will engage reluctant and voracious readers alike.--Elly Schook, Jamieson Elementary School, ChicagoCopyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.