GODDAMMIT DIANE DUANE STOP PUNCHING ME IN THE HEART!
It's a children's book, they said.
It's like Harry Potter but in America, they said.
You'll have a good time, they said.
THEY ALL LIED! I'M NOT CRYING YOU'RE CRYING!
There was a time when this book was about a girl, Nita, getting bullied at school and having her pen stolen - and this was the happy fun times. This book becomes so much more when she hides in a library and finds a book about wizardry. A book that materialized there just for her to discover. She soon finds another young wizard, Kit, who is also being bullied because of his accent and his brown skin. They befriend each other and start learning magic together, and then horrible and wonderful things start to happen.
First, this is NOT Harry Potter. I don't know if JK Rowlings read this series before writing her own, but there are some elements that are similar in both. Aside from the obvious (magic) there is a one-who-must-not-be-named, dragons, time travel, and two protagonists who just don't fit in and they're in school together. But that's where the similarities end. The magic here is rooted in the principles of science, the wizards are charged with slowing the destruction of the universe (all of them), and Nita and Kit have to deal with all this while going to school, dealing with bullies and hiding this from their families. Oh, and there's a white hole named Fred, and that's the least absurd thing that happens in this book. There are Advisories, older wizards who are past their "freelancing" years and now advise younger wizards while going about ordinary lives. Potential wizards can choose for themselves if they want to take on the mantle of wizard - and they can put it aside again if they no longer feel up to the task.
Duane borrows from fantasy, horror, science fiction and mythology to create her world. There are a couple of hiccups along the way, but for the most part the world-building is amazing here, and the prose is breathtaking. Nita and Kit (and Fred) are fully developed characters and get to go on their own personal journeys. They're friends and equals, despite being a year apart (Nita's older), different genders and different races. None of that stuff matters to them. What matters is that they have each other's backs, they encourage each other, and they both have strengths they can utilize as they fight the Destroyer - who eats stars out of spite. I was fully immersed as the action started to pick up, and then I didn't want to put it down, even when Duane punched a whole in my chest, tore out my heart and proceeded to squeeze it before my eyes.
This is such a cool and amazing world Duane has created here in just one book. I don't know how I missed this series growing up, but I'm glad I'm reading it now. There is a lot of nuance here I'm sure I would've missed as a kid, and it would be hard to fully appreciate this world without picking up on that stuff. Also, the nightmare fuel. So much nightmare fuel. God, what are the other nine going to bring? I am not ready.