Like many kids, Robbie Darko wants to be famous. But as he tells readers in the first lines of this fictional memoir, it’s hard to make an 11-year-old’s life sound exciting. We soon learn, however, that Robbie is oblivious to how interesting his life really is.
In Andrea Beaty’s funny new middle grade novel, Dorko the Magnificent, Robbie Darko, dubbed “Dorko” by the class bully, sets out to perform the greatest magic trick his town has ever seen at the upcoming school talent show. Much to his parents’ and teachers’ chagrin (and his classmates’ delight), Robbie uses every possible opportunity to practice his craft. This includes an assigned how-to speech, which already banned the use of: saws, fire, peanut butter and socks (don’t ask!), and his mom’s birthday party. But the arrival of Grandma Melvyn threatens to make Robbie’s grand plan disappear into thin air.
Until she moves into his room, Grandma Melvyn has just been that ill-tempered, smelly, distant elderly relative with the “Wicked Wobble Eye” who isn’t even anyone’s actual grandmother. She also has the extremely annoying habit of calling everyone “Trixie.” Little does Robbie know what tricks Grandma Melvyn, literally, has up her sleeves. When the classic tablecloth trick he performs in front of his whole family goes hilariously wrong, Robbie is stunned when Grandma Melvyn explodes with laughter and congratulates him on a job well done. She even calls him by his given name.
And then, the big reveal. Grandma Melvyn starts teaching Robbie incredible magician’s secrets. Pretty soon he can shuffle cards better than a professional blackjack dealer and his sleights-of-hand fool even the most perceptive audience. Joined by his best friend, Cat, who is impervious to Grandma Melvyn’s prickly personality, the three of them spend weeks working on a disappearing act that is sure to have the whole town talking for years to come. And, Robbie tells readers, it will also have movie producers banging down his door to buy his life story.
Robbie's first-person narration brings this hilariously entertaining story to life. Young readers will easily relate to his family struggles—just as they laugh with him at his numerous pratfalls. As in her debut novel, Secrets of the Cicada Summer, Beaty carefully weaves in just enough gravitas to make Dorko the Magnificent well worth a read.