The story of Abby Hale, the hero of Ordinary Magic (Bloomsbury, May 8, 2012, middle grade) by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, is, in one significant respect, the opposite of Harry Potter's story. Harry, of course, finds out that he's a wizard, and is sent off to a magical boarding school. Abby, on the other hand, has grown up in a world full of magic, and is confident that when she is tested (as all 12 year olds are), she will be proven to be a magic user like all the rest of her family.
But Abby fails the test. She is a despised "ord," and to many people, ords are less than human. Ordinary children are shunned as if they were contagious, not welcome in school, discarded by their families. An ord's only use is to be used as a tool by adventurers on magical quests--spells that would zap a magic user to bits have no effect on ords; unfortunately for the ords, however, there are many other dangers on such quests that do prove almost inevitably fatal. So ords are valuable possessions, very much in demand, and Abby's family could have sold her off for a considerable chunk of change.
But Abby's family refuses to abandon her to such a fate. Instead, her oldest sister, an incredibly powerful magic user who is a confidant of the king, arranges for Abby to attend a special boarding school--one for ordinary kids. The primary point of the school is not to educate the children (although there is that) but to keep them safe, and teach them to defend themselves. Not only are adventurers eager to kidnap them, but supernatural creatures see ords as easy prey....as Abby and her new friends learn to their horror, when the defenses of their school are breached.
It's a very fun twist of the standard magical kid tropes. Abby is a likable main character, and the school and the dangers that beset its students make for truly entertaining reading. The world-building is done well, I thought, with all the magical-ness dropped into the story in a pleasantly casual way, with no awkward information dumping.
Perhaps more could have been made of Abby's feelings about being ordinary--only passing mention is made of what is surely a more traumatic experience for both Abby and her family, and so there's not a lot of emotional punch to it. But the plight of the ords in general--pariahs and possessions--added depth to the story. Though the grown-up reader might have to work a bit to suspend disbelief about the premise of kids being cast aside, I think the target audience won't have this trouble. And I think the whole idea of shunned children is one that has a visceral appeal to the anxious young. That being said, the fact that Abby's own family continues to be loving and supportive lessens the trauma, so sensitive young readers shouldn't be too distressed!
I'm looking forward to the next book--especially because I'm more than somewhat interested in the hints of romance viz Abby's big sister!