The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd, 2016
Children’s novel for grades 4-8; magical realism, mystery
In Emma Pearl Casey’s family, every female achieves something extraordinary. They call themselves the Wildflowers because each one of them has a Destiny Dream in which they see a hint about their extraordinary destiny in a field of wildflowers. Emma has her Destiny Dream the summer before her twelfth birthday, when she has just found out that her Granny Blue is about to sell the family café. Emma is determined to find the legendary treasure of Blackbird Hollow to save the café, so she is sure that the key she sees in her dream has something to do with that treasure. As she hunts for it, she learns some stories about her hometown’s history and learns some lessons about friendship and love.
I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a few months now because I very much enjoyed Natalie Lloyd’s previous novel, A Snicker of Magic from 2014. The magical realism and the sentimental portrayal of Appalachian Tennessee felt very unique and appealing, and I found the characters to be distinctive and memorable. In those regards, Lloyd’s new book is similar. Like A Snicker of Magic, it takes place in a small, relatively secluded mountain town in Tennessee with a rich history that plays a prominent role in the book’s plot. Both of Lloyd’s novels attribute magical properties to things as commonplace as ice cream and flowers, and describe those properties in such a matter-of-fact way that the reader can almost forget that things don’t work that way in the real world. And both books feature very close, loving, and sweet relationships between the protagonist’s family and friend group. When I’ve recommended A Snicker of Magic to young readers, I’ve acknowledged that you have to have a relatively high tolerance for cutesiness to enjoy it, and I’d say the same about The Key to Extraordinary. But I evidently do have a very high tolerance for cutesiness. Not only did I enjoy the book, but I found it very emotional and moving.
I would strongly recommend The Key to Extraordinary for readers who enjoyed A Snicker of Magic or The Ghost of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.