Reason Cansino can walk for days through the Australian Outback. She can reel off hundreds of numbers from the Fibonacci series. And she knows that no matter what, she has to stay out of the evil hands of her grandmother, Esmeralda. Her mother, Sarafina, has told her all about Esmeralda's crazy belief in witchcraft, how she kills animals and even people because of some delusion of magic.
Reason was happy living with Sarafina, but when Sarafina goes mad and tries to kill herself, Reason is forced into her grandmother's custody. When she opens a door in Esmeralda's Sydney house and finds herself in New York City, Reason is forced to confront everything she thought she knew... and the magic within herself.
With the help of Tom and Jay-Tee, two other teens with the "power," Reason must figure out who she is and what she can do. But there are predators eager to take advantage of their power and ignorance, and nowhere is safe for any of them... and nobody can be trusted.
I had fun reading this book, and I was disappointed when it ended. I was really interested in the "magic" of Reason's world, and I wish the book had explained it more. I also liked the Australian slang (which, being a sadly undertraveled American, I've never really heard before) and I just thought the whole thing was really interesting.
Here, Magic or Madness loses a lot of points, for being largely uncreative and annoyingly un-subtle about a lot of things. The plot itself was at times haphazard and didn't make a lot of cohesive sense. And there really were no surprises for me. I've read better.
Reason goes from wildly naive to worldly and mature, and back again, constantly. It was practically giving me whiplash, all her personality reversals. I still don't have a clear idea of who she is and what she's like. The rest of the characters were equally confusing and unexplained. I never really had a connection with any of them or felt like they were exciting or special. And their voices were all quite similar, even the American/Australian ones; practically indistinguishable.
Although at times a little heavy-handed, Larbalestier is a good writer and Magic or Madness is decently well written.
End Result: three stars. A decent book, but not amazingly excellent.