A dystopian urban fantasy written for young adults, The Gift is the second novel in James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard series. Co-writing with Ned Rust, Patterson wastes no time opening The Gift, starting his story with the public execution of a resistance leader and follows up with a face-off between our teenage heroes and their villainous foe, The One Who Is The One.
Yes, our heroes, Whit and Wisty Allgood, have a lot of problems. For one thing, their parents are fugitive revolutionaries fighting against the New Order, and Whit and Wisty are forced to fend for themselves. Fortunately, the Allgoods can use magic, so Whit and Wisty still receive handwritten text messages to guide their way. Though Whit and Wisty have inherited this gift of magic from their parents, it certainly brings them a lot of trouble to stand out in a world where most people are conditioned to stop working when they hear a middle C played on a pipe. Sadly, in the New Order, creativity, art, and independent thought (and magic) are discouraged. Ironically, these are all traits held by the One Who Is The One, which is precisely what makes him such a dastardly antagonist.
Ironic or not, The One is better at using magic than Whit and Wisty are. Still, magic has its uses and it is their greatest strength in fighting against the rest of the New Order, a bureaucracy of unimaginative buffoons, brainwashed minions, and cigar-smoking soldiers. What other weapons do they have? Well, there is the positive energy of rock music, sarcasm, and their unflinching loyalty to their friends and crushes. As Whit unselfconsciously admits, Wisty is “99 percent passion, 1 percent plan.” So perhaps it should as no surprise that Whit and Wisty are soon captured and sent to the Brave New World Center for new training. Will they figure out their gifts, break out of school, and save the day? Will they be reunited with their parents?
Although The Gift bridges numerous genres — urban fantasy, dystopian literature, young adult literature — Patterson and co-writer Ned Rust have produced an otherwise formulaic young adult novel. In fact, The Gift feels like it was calculated to hit all the right buttons with a young adult audience. Chapters alternate between Whit and Wisty’s point of view, both of whom manage to speak in a spunky but self-conscious first-person voice that recalls some of the most popular young adult titles of the 21st century: Bella from Twilight, Percy Jackson from Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and Katniss from The Hunger Games. The pacing is fast, with most chapters flashing by in just three pages as Whit and Wisty constantly react to the New Order’s diabolical plot twists.
Artificial or not, it’s tough to fault The Gift’s message: be yourself, follow your dreams, and read books. Like many writers of young adult dystopia, Patterson (and Rust) do their best to pay homage to dystopian works like George Orwell’s 1984 (there are TVs that can show images but also spy on the viewers) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (here Patterson and Rust have substituted an addictive chocolate for soma), but they have also found a way to incorporate canonical poetry. Before Whit can transform into a tiger, he must read William Blake’s “The Tyger.” Whit and Wisty learn to be individuals and to resist conformity as they read celebrated poets, ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to Robert Frost.
It may not be groundbreaking, but The Gift is an otherwise fine entry into the ever-growing body of young adult dystopian novels. Some adult readers may find The Gift a little too formulaic, and the pacing leaves little room for character development, but Patterson does have a “gift” for keeping his readers reading. And because James Patterson is one of the most successful authors of all time, The Gift is likely to find a sizable audience.
Witch and Wizard — (2009-2014) Young adult. With Gabrielle Charbonnet and Ned Rust. A graphic version is availalbe. Publisher: YOUR BOOKS, MUSIC, AND ART — BANNED BY THE NEW ORDER! Everything is about to change. The government has seized control of every aspect of society, and this is the astonishing testimonial of Wisty and Whit Allgood, a sister and brother who were torn from their family in the middle of the night, slammed into prison, and accused of being a witch and a wizard. Thousands of young people have been kidnapped; some have been accused; many others remain missing. Their fate is unknown, and the worst is feared — for the ruling regime will stop at nothing to suppress life and liberty, music and books, art and magic… and the pursuit of being a normal teenager.