Synopsis according to GoodReads:
“Anna Van Housen helps her medium mother Margeurite do stage shows and seances in 1920s New York. Possibly Houdini’s daughter, she cansense feelings and see the future. Frightening visions show her mother in peril. New downstairs neighbor Cole introduces her to a society that studies people with gifts like hers. Sorting truth from illusion yields her destiny.”
Born of Illusion is an historical fiction novel set around the time of Harry Houdini, and told from the perspective of a young stage magician/con woman. I was happy to read something that unique, and Teri Brown definitely did her research about the attitudes toward psychospirituality at that time.
I liked the first 75% of the book. The pacing was good, and I loved the ongoing tension between Anna and her mother. It’s the kind of tension that can’t be adequately resolved in the after-school-special trope of “oh, I just misunderstood my mom”. Unfortunately, Teri Brown takes this tack, which feels like an easy way out, instead of really delving into the valid love-hate relationship there (which, incidentally, is not a problem that needs resolving but could be an ever-present lifelong tension that shapes the personality of Anna).
The other problem I had with the book was the romantic relationship. At first blush, it seemed like an interesting setup of “girl likes two boys” (yes, THAT overdone trope) but girl doesn’t know how to trust and is trying to appear normal and therefore feels pressured to pick one boy. I especially liked the fact that both boys were decent, kind, attractive, and compelling. It felt like the beginnings of a potentially new trope, wherein perhaps the girl DOESN’T choose between the two boys, or finds out one is her relative, or something- anything- new. If you haven’t already guessed from the tone of this paragraph….nothing new happened. One character was suddenly demonized, making the other character the only choice for Anna.
So if you LIKE formulaic YA, and historical fiction YA, this is a good airplane read. I appreciate the historic detail Teri Brown included, and the beginnings of originality in the story. I was disappointed that it wasn’t more original or unique, but that’s because I prize original story over tried-and-true sellers.
I recommend this book for fans of the typical historical fiction YA, girl-meets-two-boys YA romance, and YA in a time period not usually covered.